#RBNY fans are waking up knowing their club has destiny in their hands… and it's terrifying.
— Mark Fishkin (@MarkFishkin) October 14, 2013
(Mark Fishkin is the host of the Seeing Red podcast)
Somehow, despite a week off the Red Bull fans are still laughing – although nervously – at the top of the table. While the club is on a run of good form and, even better, fortune, memories of the summer slumps and the repeated late season disappointments linger. The club that on the field resembles the Mets, Jets, and Nets, and off the field with Yankees-esque payroll and expectations, finally may achieve it’s long quest for hardware.
The Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup are not a foregone conclusion for any supporter of this bipolar squad. Dropped points at Toronto FC and Chivas USA haunt the consciousness of any fan with memory superior to a goldfish. In a season lacking a consensus super club or at least a clear favorite, the Red Bulls remain paper tigers in status. As it should, the team does not have the prestige of the Galaxy or a coach with the post-season success of Dominic Kinnear. What this team has demonstrated is a series of lows the reach the depths of the Passaic River and highs that touch the Chrysler Building.
At their best, the Red Bulls beat the three conference leaders in a four week span (Montreal 4-0, Real Salt Lake 4-3, @Sporting Kansas 3-2). Only to be washed away with an inexplicable winless streak the next three matches. The culmination, a blow up during practice between the most accomplished and honored player in league history and a first year coach sitting only a failed result away from losing his job.
That moment is now a watermark denoting a sea of change in the season. The Red Bulls are back near peak performance minus a few injured pieces. Coach Mike Petke shaped his rigid square pegs to fit into star, octagon, and circle shaped holes. However, there has yet to be a game where the post-summer-transfer-window version of the squad played as a complete unit. The closest thing came in the first 30 minutes against Dallas, where they had both DPs and Brandon Wright-Phillips on the field, with BWP playing the target man, giving the team a new breakaway threat lacking all season. No other forward could play that role, not Henry, Espindola, Luyindula, or Cahill. With or without the holdup forward, the primarily formation and route of attack remains predictable. It is the talent of the individual players and their understanding of the game that results in success. Overload the flanks with fullbacks, midfielders, and forwards, and send in a cross. It is a 4-4(2-2)-2, where Tim Cahill and Dax McCarty play the double pivot, send the ball out wide then have the license to freelance once the ball gets into the neutral third.
It is unclear if this is what those in the front office had envisioned. The main route of attack flows through a handful of journeyman and loose parts sending crosses to multi-million-dollar DPs and journeymen and loose parts. It is the meal the MLS-lifer, first year coach, created from ingredients purchased by the French GM and Scottish Sporting Director, with limited knowledge of the American palate. As the majority of MLS teams venture south for younger talent, New York remained in the old world. While Colorado, Portland, and even LA incorporated youth hoping they could find another gear for the post season. This squad of veterans are either currently at their best or have seen it many years ago. Finding that next gear or at least remaining at their peak relies on the coaching staff.
Can the Red Bulls play at a level similar to their victories at Houston in September and SKC in August, in at least four out of five playoff games? It is not merely a question of effect, the several late game goals to win or draw answered that. The biggest concern, can the staff recognize and respond to in game and second leg adjustments. The team has not diverted from formation and routes of attack much. Breakaway goals from long through balls are often attempted but rarely finished, Henry lacks the pace and Espindola always finds himself venturing wide confusing a flag post for the goal post. The team is at their most frustrated when pressed high, when forwards can’t get service, and when long passes out of the back are picked off in the defensive third. It was the early blueprint to beat them, to steal cheap goals against them.
Fortunately for New York none of their likely Eastern Conference opponents have a signature style that matches the blueprint to beat them. On paper, Houston this Sunday is the biggest obstacle between the Red Bulls and hardware. Mike Petke’s preparation and adjustments will determine if the Red Bulls will end the season in their predictable postseason pattern.
This Week’s Throw-In:
- I’m a supporter of shortening the season and honoring FIFA international dates, but it was nice to have some soccer to watch over the weekend. Regardless of my desire to be continuously entertained, which club makes the playoffs shouldn’t be determined by subs. My status is to cut the season to 28 games, and creates an interleague tournament with USL, NASL, CSL, and MLS during those off weeks. It pleases both my desire for integrity and more soccer.
- There are more interesting individual matches these last two weeks, but I’m fascinated by the home and home matches between the Rapids and Whitecaps, and the Crew and Revolution. It’s was a completely nonsensical scheduling choice by the league that somehow worked. If the Revs, Rapids, or Caps sweep they are in and their opponents are out. The Crew need help. A single draw in either leg can cost both clubs. Each match should be balls out, win at all cost soccer. We should thank the MLS but they completely fell into this one.
- I can’t imagine the Sounders not making the playoffs but a failure to get a result at FC Dallas will be the leading cause of moist arm pits in the MLS front office. You think someone would shoot Sigi a text “You know that Brad Evans, guy? Put him at right back or right mid. Regardless the whole Yedlin/Rosales thing ain’t working no more. It worked for one German, why not another.” And for Osvaldo Alonso, as of publication, no decision was made about an additional punishment aside from the one game due to the red. It’s not the red that should lead to a long punishment but the “confrontation mass” with the refs. MLS needs to protect their officials, despite the general feeling about their overall quality. For now, MLS conspiracy theorists await with bated breath.
About the author:
Jay’s first memory of professional soccer was watching a flaming haired pirate in a blue shirt with white stars menace a golden shirt lion on the field of roses. Since then, he has followed the game from the cradle of US soccer, Northern Jersey. Tracking the progress of the sport in the states through the international team and Major League Soccer he has become a student of tactical football, the business of sports and the cultural impact of the game. Jay enjoys the view from the ivory tower but is not afraid to be in arm’s length of the ultras in the South Ward. You can follow Jay on Twitter@rescindedred.