BY MIKE VALLO
Let me get my apology out of the way. This week’s SFS is going to be a letdown. It has to be. Our sojourn to the Land of Hans was, to put it modestly, pure gold. You’re welcome.
And for this week’s return to mediocrity, I’m sorry.
Maybe the Wizard of Hans wasn’t just a well dressed Swedish man behind a curtain afterall. Against New England, the Red Bulls showed something that looked a lot like heart. The gritty performance that saw New York take all three points against New England was my favorite game this year. New York put in a Rocky-esque performance, taking blow after blow to the head but refusing to go down–future brain damage be damned! It wasn’t as flashy as a 3-plus goal beat down but it said more about the team than any of their other wins this season.
Outside of the 1% derby(against the Galaxy), the Red Bulls always seem to have trouble getting up for big games, whether it be rivalries or playoff matches. They’re even more dreadful when a game takes an unfortunate turn. Normally when the going gets tough, the Red Bulls wilt and make excuses. Their near-constant lack of mettle is why the whining in this column is on par with a 13 year old girl’s livejournal.
But what could be worse than your star player, leading scorer and captain leaving the game early with an injury? An injured Thierry Henry is up there with walking in on your parents, in terms of things you wish you could un-see. The sense of doom in Red Bull Arena was tangible and I doubt I was alone in assuming the game would end horribly for New York.
You can imagine my delight when the team regrouped and showed the kind of determination that after the DC game, I honestly didn’t think they had.
The backline was made up entirely of bench players with the lone exception of Markus Holgersson, who most fans would’ve rather seen on the bench. But Holgy and the Rooks–possible name for the first ever soccer/cop drama–earned New York’s first shutout of the season. It definitely wasn’t pretty and the end of the second half was ulcer inducing, but they kept the Revs out of the net.
Connor Lade rebounded from an iffy first start in DC, playing well defensively and threatening a couple of times in the first half. Brandon Barklage is naturally a midfielder but filled in well at right back. The lone regular, Holgersson, was solid; exactly what New York needs from the Swede. I really liked Backe’s decision to give him the armband in the second half. It may seem trivial but it was a nice sign of support from the coach for a guy who has been under a lot of heat for his early season struggles.
On the other hand calling Ryan Meara’s international aspirations “stupid” wasn’t so great, especially the week after Meara finally got his first clean sheet. His five save performances showed that in the absence of comically bad defensive gaffes, the young goalkeeper can protect the net. Meara has fought all season to keep New York in games despite the atrocious play of the back four. After the game you could tell the team was thrilled to finally help their keeper out and contribute to the clean sheet he deserved many times over this season.
Dane Richards might be the Red Bulls most consistently good player. This game was no different, but it was the way he contributed that made it such fantastic performance. His name won’t show up in any of the statistical columns for Saturday’s game but he was vital to preserving the lead. The Jamaican ran at the defense all second half, keeping the ball in New England’s half and providing some threat to break up the Revolution’s offensive onslaught. He played incredibly smart and lightened the load on the makeshift defense.
At one time Richards offered speed and nothing more, then he improved his touch and decision making and now he’s shown he can put in the dirty work when need be.
His fellow midfielder, Dax McCarty, also had a banner day. McCarty seems to prefer a more attacking role but he was superb as a stopper. His support for the back four was sorely needed and was a big factor in the shutout. He also sprung the occasional counter attack, a nice bonus.
Even the ref couldn’t ruin the result for the Red Bulls. Why there were five minutes of injury time for a half with no goals, cards or injuries, I’ll never know. Luckily a whiff by Björn Runström prevented an injury time heartbreaker. I suppose when seven of your starters are hurt, you’re due for a lucky break.
It was a great team performance and more importantly an effort the fans could feel proud of; something that was sorely needed after the debacle in RFK.
Unfortunately the next month is going to be awful. New York has five games before the team is back to anything resembling full strength. Henry, Wilman Conde and Teemu Tainio are still out for another month. Roy Miller and Stephen Keel are also out with Juan Agudelo and Jan Gunnar Solli listed as questionable for Saturday’s tilt. Rafa Marquez will be back from suspension after Saturday, which I guess is a good thing.
In the upcoming shorthanded stretch are matches against Los Angeles, Houston and rival Philadelphia. Frankly, anything more than four points in the month of May would be a nice surprise.
It’s going to be a painful and frustrating month of bench players and bunker ball. But if the Red Bulls show the same effort we saw on Saturday they’ll pick up a hard earned point here and there. With the chips stacked so highly against them, who could find fault in that?