Preseason games can be notoriously misleading, and an isolated preseason game is a limited sample size, for sure, but, man, based on last night’s performance in Glendale, Arizona, the 2011 Red Bulls look a lot like the 2010 Red Bulls—only not as good.
They were missing two projected starters in Juan Agudelo (groin) and Jan Gunnar Solli (undisclosed “minor” injury), but they looked far more than two pieces away from being a contending team. There was no rhythm whatsoever to their play, they struggled to connect passes, and they were fortunate to escape with a 1-1 tie against Atlas, which is currently 4-4-1 after nine games in the Mexican Primera Division.
In short, they looked like what they were last season—a work in progress, a team yet to cohere.
A positive echo of last season was the one player who made something happen—Joel Lindpere, who drew an 88th-minute penalty that enabled New York to tie it up. Sure, he embellished it a little, but he got himself in a good attacking position, made a move, felt contact and went down. Boom: penalty; tie game.
But there was very little else to praise. Thierry Henry vacillated between frustration with his teammates for their inability to read his intentions (we’re looking at you, Dane Richards) and wild-eyed outrage at some rash tackles from the opposition (late in the game, he retaliated for one in a fashion that would have earned him a straight red in 99.9% of the leagues around the world. He got a yellow.).
He had isolated moments of gliding-on-air effectiveness, but overall, Henry did not look like a player ready to dominate MLS competition. Which, you know, was sort of the idea when RBNY brought him over last season.
Rafael Marquez was even worse. He was beaten badly on a ball over the top in the first half, and if not for some excellent cover from American Carlos Mendes, New York would have surrendered a goal on the play. Later, Marquez sent an awkward backpass to Bouna Coundoul that forced the keeper into an even more awkward emergency clearance.
The Mexican international also seemed to mentally float in and out of the game—a trait we saw in his RBNY appearances last season.
Partnering Henry up top was the 6-4 Ghanian Salou Ibrahim—a player that coach Backe spent the preseason going out of his way to say is not in his plans. Now here’s a start, Salou—go get ’em. He was predictably feckless and missed a clear chance in the first half, sending a lob over the bar with the keeper beaten.
New signing Teemu Tainio did not look like the answer in the middle of the park, and slightly ahead of him in midfield, Mehdi Ballouchy made us think Backe and Co. fell in love with the Morrocan prematurely last summer, and made a rash decision when they acquired him from Colorado (which went on to win the league without him, btw).
Ballouchy brings sporadic flashes of skill to the table—and nothing else.
Speaking of one-dimensionality, Dane Richards didn’t even have his primary (solitary?) asset—speed—going last night. Atlas defenders seemed prepared for that element and did an effective job neutralizing the Jamaican winger—when he wasn’t neutralizing himself with unforced errors and passes to no one.
On the positive side, Tim Ream was his usual composed and consistent self at centerback (despite scoring an own goal when a driven cross wrong-footed him), and Mendes, as we suggested earlier, looked pretty good—especially so since he had played 90 minutes against Dallas the day before.
Beyond that, though, if Red Bulls fans want to maintain their optimism for the 2011 season, they’ll have to set this one aside and fuhgettaboudid, as they say in New York.