Sans Henry, New York Gets the Job Done, Blanks Philly 1-0 to Clinch Playoffs

Needing a win or a tie to qualify for the postseason, and missing their leading scorer Thierry Henry, the Red Bulls delivered one of their best performances of the year, edging Philadelphia 1-0 in a testy, nervy game that booked their spot in the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs.

Dane Richards got the game’s only goal, in the 8th minute, heading Jan Gunnar Solli’s cross against the left post and in off the back of Union keeper Faryd Mondragon. The official ruling was an own goal, but if MLS had a Dubious Goals Panel (as the EPL amusingly dubs its committee on these things), we believe they’d give the tally to Richards. (They still could. UPDATE: And … they did. )

In any event, New York made the goal stand up, and nearly added to their lead on several occasions against a Philadelphia team gunning for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Highlights:

A number of Red Bulls produced gut-check performances, from Solli, who was Man of the Match, to holding midfielder Teemu Tainio (runner-up, in our view), Dax McCarty (bulldogging all over the place), Stephen Keel, Tim Ream, and yes…wait for it…Rafa Marquez. The Mexico captain had a few unforced errors, but mostly he was a calming presence in midfield who possessed the ball well and occasionally pulled strings to spring New York attacks.

If the real season starts with the playoffs, then New York heads into theirs on a positive note. They won’t know their wild-card opponent, or overall seeding, until this weekend’s schedule plays out. They could finish ninth or 10th depending on the remaining Week 32 results.

The wild-card round kicks off next Wednesday, Oct 26.

Advertisements

Red Bulls Wrap Up Preseason with Chippy, Less-than-Impressive Draw Against Atlas

We are still awaiting the day when Marquez applies himself in a Red Bull game.

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.

Red Bulls 2, New England, 0: New York Wins Eastern Conference

We have, now, officially, after several seasons of watching his high-speed, low-skill antics, reached the point at which Red Bull winger Dane Richards can be called …  a good player.

A damn good one: He has five goals in his last seven games, and has been the primary spark-provider in New York’s conference-championship stretch run.

When he sat out last week’s Philadelphia game, the Red Bull attack was noticeably listless (that was partly due to their 4-5-1 first-half formation, but they definitely missed The Dane).

Back in the lineup in front of a decent Thursday-night crowd at Red Bull Arena yesterday, Richards opened the scoring 17 minutes in, taking an excellent pass from Juan Pablo Angel, streaking to the top of the box, and rifling a shot over New England keeper Bobby Shuttleworth (no relation to Jesus).

Joel Lindpere salted away the win with a nice cutback and goal (and New England’s Chris Tierney clearly kept him onside, double-check the replay below) in stoppage time.

The victory clinched playoff homefield advantage for the Red Bulls, and it also tied their own MLS record for best single-year improvement (10 wins), set in 2000.

Lindpere’s capper could not have been more appropriate: He scored the first regular-season goal at Red Bull Arena on March 27, and last night, he bagged the last. In between, he was the most consistent performer for the team, hands-down.

Also of note, before we get to the highlights—Juan Pablo Angel looked good, holding the ball up well, and sending out several other nice passes in addition to the one that set up Richards. After the game, New England midfielder Shalrie Joseph (who outplayed Rafa Marquez, btw), responded to the recent talk that Angel will not be back next season, telling Goal.com:

“I think it would be really stupid to let Angel go. In my eyes, he is definitely one of the top three scorers in this league. He does so much for that team. For him not to re-sign would be a sad loss, but if he leaves, hopefully our team and organization can make a bid for him.”

We tend to agree—and Angel has certainly been much healthier than Thierry Henry this season.

Okay, highlights:

“MLS Owns the City of Manchester Right Now”

So said Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad after his team downed Manchester United 2-1 on Sunday, not long after the New York Red Bulls had beaten Manchester City by the same score.

No doubt Conrad—who was shown a straight red in the 39th minute after taking down Dimitar Berbatov in the box—was feeling a rush of blood to the head when he made the comment. He swore he got a lot of the ball on the play and didn’t think he deserved the red (the replays showed that referee Terry Vaughn, who’s messed up a call or two in the past, got this one right).

So, yeah, Conrad was going with the heart not the head when he threw that one out.

But still, the results—especially the win by 10-man KC—are impressive. Check out the Wizards-Man U highlights below:

The effort drew some praise from Man U coach Sir Alex Ferguson, who called the Wizards, “a big, strong team. They’re athletic, very powerful,” and it paid immediate dividends for Kansas City: The club is moving into its own soccer-specific stadium next June (capacity, 18,500) and saw a spike in season-ticket sales for the venue, with more than 700 sold on Monday.

Here are the Red Bulls-Man City highlights, with a “heavy legged” Thierry Henry (he’s packing in the training sessions to get match fit for his MLS debut on July 31), more good work from Macoumba Kandji, and Dane Richards proving once again (see Santos friendly in March) that he is the best exhibtion-game player in MetroBull history (now, as for MLS games…..):