One of the basic rules in sports writing, aside from blizzards or monsoons, the weather never leads the story. But as I sat less than 10 miles from Red Bull Arena, in my house, watching the pregame to the New York Red Bulls vs Chicago Fire match with every window in the living room open, I could not be happier I sold my tickets a few days earlier.
The kick off temperature was 69 degrees with that heavy northeast humidity we normally expect around late June. The weather appeared to have no bearing on the first half as the home team walked into the locker room with a 2-1 lead.
When MSG network reporter, Tina Cervasio, opened her halftime interview with Red Bull’s coach Mike Petke about the team’s quick response after the dubious early Chicago Fire goal, Petke answered as expected. He criticized the team despite the score and nearly 60% possession.
It is Petke’s move to be critical when leading or tied, and inversely point out the positives when down. Eyes rolled around the Metro with his complaints about attitude and the lack of off the ball movement.
The lone first half goal by the previously winless Chicago Fire should have been disallowed due to the linemans correctly calling Mike Magee offside but the referee Kevin Stott allowed it. (More in This Week’s Throw-In) What came in the second half was far from what many viewers expected.
Was the Red Bulls second half embarrassment an issue was attitude or personnel? Infamously the Supporter Shield winners of last year regularly underperformed to opponents with poor records. Yet, do not rush to judgment that this year’s squad has the same mental lapses as 2013. The second half collapse against the Fire is symptomatic for what also ailed them against FC Dallas a week prior.
Red Bulls should have handled FC Dallas easily as they were without talented play-maker Mauro Diaz, their starting fullbacks Michel and talented homegrown Kellyn Acosta. Add Je-Vaughn Watson earning himself a red card in the first 10 minutes for jump cleating Tim Cahill in the abdomen, the match should have been over early. Instead, New York required a penalty save from Luis Robles and the lone game winning goal in the 71st minute.
The weather connects these two performances against struggling sides. The afternoon match in Dallas kicked off at 91 degrees, while the home match against Chicago was 69 degrees but with a hearty 70 plus percent humidity. The lack of off the ball movement that frustrated Petke in the first half is likely a symptom of poor conditioning, and the irresolvable problem of an aging roster.
Among the regular starters and frequently used squad players, Eric Alexander is the youngest at 26 years old. The spark plug defensive midfielder, Dax McCarty is the next youngest at 27. The starting lineup has more players born in the years on or before 1984 than after. It is a conscious decision to player veterans and avoid the ups and downs in the growth process. Predictability is an important element of the ‘win now’ mentality –from the front office to the field. Good scouting can establish the player’s cellar after a certain number of minutes played. This lead to the team bringing in Richard Eckersley and Bobby Convey rather than give minutes to Connor Lade or US u20 player Matt Miazga.
The Red Bulls seems to only have two gears: inspiring hustle or sluggish content. Due to the team’s talent they can survive playing the second, however, when adversity hits it’s difficult to turn on again. It is not to say Petke’s halftime message goes into the ether, there has been second half turns, but observers of the team have got Petke-isms down pat. With a veteran team, talk is less potent than tactical adjustments. Petke, in only his second year as head coach, has much room to grow tactically and strategically. Moreover, with the lack of the youth talent getting steady playing time, one might assume there is a deficiency in youth development. Which means any solution to the issues of an aging roster would come from outside the club, however, it is difficult to see where this team can acquire young legs talented enough to break the starting XI.
If New York simply has a conditioning problem they can look forward to a typical summer slump with the late August turnaround. If it’s a difficulty with penetrating the veteran locker room with words, it may be another training ground incident to snap them out. Petke is learning and growing as a coach, but will it be fast enough to meet the team’s aspirations.
This Week’s Throw-In:
- The referee in the New York Red Bull vs Chicago Fire match, Kevin Stott, did not appear to be familiar with Law 11.9 which deems a passive player offside if “making a gesture or movement which deceives or distracts.” After a four-goal second half, it’s a moot point, unless you need ammo to further rip appalling performances by the league’s referees. You can find the rule on page 114 on the FIFA 2013-2014 Laws of the Game.
- This years’ early candidate for the Juan Agudelo Award, a non-DP who’s injury coincides with the team’s record, is Kellyn Acosta of FC Dallas. The homegrown fullback played in five games where Dallas won 4 and drew 1. Without the recent u20 call up Dallas lost 5 and won 1.
- As of this publication, Frank Klopas is still the Montreal Impact coach. A bit surprising given owner Joey Saputo tweeted “Our fans deserve better. Changes will be coming, guaranteed” in both French and English. Montreal did little to improve their squad during the summer arms race. The poor start is expected, and not completely Klopas’ fault.