The quasi dark side of RBNY fandom.
And thus begins what I hope will be a new column in which I recap the match from the night before and share some thoughts. We’ll see how it goes and if it lasts. Like for example if on a job interview I’m asked if I’m an alcoholic and this column title is used as the evidence, then it won’t last and I’ll have to change it up. But for now, let’s move forward.
Watch Location: Darby Road – Scotch Plains, NJ
Beer of choice: O’Douls (No booze for Lent, gotta admit O’Douls is a decent NA)
So, like many with a hangover the next morning, Red Bulls fans are left wondering just what the hell happened last night. After the third goal in the first half, it appeared the match was all but over. I even came close to shooting out a tweet that would have said, “The rout is on,” but of course I knew better. After Portland knotted it up, I was quite grateful I didn’t put my foot in my mouth.
The clues as to what led to the Red Bulls’ unravelling are actually quite clear. It wasn’t another example of the infernal “that’s so Metro,” that the most cynical likely fell back on. No, the draw boiled down to tactics and familiarity issues that will play a role early in the season.
Though before we wallow in negativity, let’s look at some of the positives.
The Red Bulls received a significant talent infusion by way of Salt Lake with the debuts of Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave. Espindola was everything that fans hoped he would be when he became a Red Bull, playing with pace and tenacity. Good on him not to give up on the play on the first goal, enabling him to capitalize on Portland’s gaffes. He also displayed tremendous skill on his second goal, capitalizing on the dreadful Mikaël Silvestre’s misplay and then scoring from a difficult angle. Espindola brings to the table what’s been missing since Luke Rodgers became an enemy of the state. The only difference being that Espindola is far more talented and that should be downright scary for the rest of MLS.
Olave had a shakier night, but was by and large the best defender on the field, making a number of tremendous stops that should have people optimistic about his upcoming season. Yes, he was involved in two of Portland’s goals. The first he was caught flat footed by Diego Valeri, though that was more a product of Valeri’s tremendous skill. On the final goal, the ball deflected off him leaving Robles without a chance of making a save and the Red Bulls kissed 3 points goodbye. All in all, it’s hard to see Olave scoring weekly own goals and facing the type of skill possessed by Valeri so a performance like last night’s will likely be the exception rather than the rule.
Now onto the negatives. The backline as a whole was quite shaky, not that anyone should be surprised. As Steve Davis at NBC Sports pointed out, newly constructed defenses take time to gel. Red Bull fans need only to look back at last year when Markus Holgersson took about a month to gel with his teammates. He started the season looking awful before becoming one of the sturdiest defenders the team had. This Red Bull backline with two new starters just needs time and Petke being a defensive mind should be the man to get it right (more on him later).
If any changes may happen to the backline, Heath Pearce may get moved back out left and Holgersson may move back into the starting lineup. Two instances from last night’s match may necessitate this. Roy Miller is everyone’s favorite whipping boy, but I’m not going to pile on. Rather, I’m going to say Miller is a pretty solid leftback who’s prone to that one instance of mind boggling decision making. His panicked attempt to defend leading up to Portland’s third goal allowed Jose Valencia to fire the ball in off Olave. Miller’s not completely at fault, but had he been a little more cool headed, the goal may never have happened.
Then there’s Heath Pearce’s assist on the third goal. There are many who believe that the best left back in MLS happens to be Heath Pearce, he’s even made 35 national team appearances at the position. He just so happens to play centerback at the moment. But if one thing was evident last night, it’s that Pearce sure can cross the ball from the left, putting the ball in such a dangerous position for Olave to easily clean up. It might be time to move Pearce back to the left permanently.
Another aspect of last night’s draw was the relative absence of New York’s big name players. It’s hard to totally blame them as 3 goals should be more than enough to grab 3 points, but they all had quiet nights. Thierry Henry looked energized and excited to be on the field for once, but he didn’t look like the magical Henry we all know and love. Tim Cahill had another absent performance that’s becoming the norm. If there’s any silver lining about Cahill, it’s that it took Henry a half season plus a few games to finally settle in so he has a little more time before going through his own GSS (now GSU) incident. Juninho, despite his first curling free kick that was saved, didn’t seem to have much of an impact. None of these guys were excited about playing on turf, so hopefully that played a bit on their performances and we’ll see a whole other side to these guys on the grass of Buck Shaw.
Finally, the blame lands where no one wants to put it, but losing three points lays squarely at the feet of head coach Mike Petke. Hopefully this was a learning experience for the new gaffer. You simply cannot take your foot off the gas, even with a 2 goal lead. You have to stomp out the opponent and squash the life out of them so there’s no chance of them coming back to life. After an energetic and attacking first half, the Red Bulls came out in the second half looking timid and conservative. The Timbers made them pay and quite frankly, the Red Bulls are lucky to walk out of Jeld Wen with even a point. Last night was exhibit A of the growing pains the Red Bulls are likely going to go through with a rookie head coach. There’s no reason to doubt Petke will learn from it, but let’s hope this is a one and done type of mistake.
Overall, the Red Bulls currently have 1 point. One more than they had after two matches last season. It’s tough because they had 3 points all but handed to them, but it’s certainly better than no points. As long as the team learns fast from its mistakes and miscues, the positives should outweigh the negatives, and the season may very well be a bright one.