With Nine Games Still Remaining in the Round, the MLS Goal of the Week Competition Is Over

Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry shut down the balloting for the week (and maybe the year) with this stunner:

The 88th-minute golazo put New York up 2-0 on Montreal, but of course, these being the Red Bulls, they gave up a goal to Marco Di Vaio in stoppage time, and then nearly blew Henry’s masterpiece a minute later, when Di Vaio hit both posts with a shot inside the box.

The former Serie A goal poacher was ruled offside, dubiously, and the ball just stayed out, enabling the Red Bulls (6-4-2) to hold on for a 2-1 win that lifted them into a tie with Houston atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Van Persie vs Wolyniec

Manchester United striker Robin van Persie scored three goals yesterday to lift his team to a 3-0 win over Aston Villa (and U.S. keeper Brad Guzan) that clinched the club’s 20th English championship.

His second was a beauty:

The full volley into the far corner, off of a pass from distance, kind of reminded us of MetroBull striker John Wolyniec’s overtime winner against Columbus in 2003:

Which one is better?

The MLS man was closer to goal, but the pass he had to deal with was longer. It was also an overtime winner.

Both players hit the ball absolutely on the screws, but RVP’s degree of difficulty to get it on frame was greater, and he pocketed it right in the corner.

Advantage: RVP, by a nose.

Red Bulls Subtract “Interim” Tag from Mike Petke, Name Him Head Coach for 2013

Petke!

You won’t find bigger fans of Mike Petke than the ones currently roaming the gleaming corridors of the Backpost World Headquarters. We love the guy. New York’s alltime leader in games played, he’s charismatic, hard-working, and was a damn good MLS center back.

He bookended his career with stints in New York, starting with the MetroStars in 1998 before moving on to DC United (where he won the 2004 MLS title) and Colorado (which he helped lead to the 2005 Western Conference final) and then returning to the rebranded Red Bulls in 2008.

He was a three-time MLS All-Star, he earned two caps for the U.S. national team, and he has a fantastic Long Island accent. Petke is aces back-to-back.

So why are we a little lukewarm on his hiring?

For starters, he was clearly the team’s third choice, at best. The Red Bulls courted former Portugese international Paulo Sousa, Scottish veteran Gary McAllister, and possibly several others if reports are to be believed (Eric Wynalda? Tony Meola? Paul Lambert?), while Petke was a placeholder “interim” coach following Hans Backe’s dismissal in early November.

There’s definitely an element of, “Oh, crap, all our choices have fallen through, and the season is  just about to start—Mike, the job is yours.” (Or, to put it another way, the Red Bulls are the squirrel in this clip, and the impending season is the leopard.)

Then there’s the question of Petke’s experience, and his temperament. He has two seasons under his belt as an assistant to Backe, and he also comes across as kind of a good-time guy. He’s not a loose cannon (like Wynalda), but he doesn’t radiate gravitas, exactly.

That may not be a problem: several recent MLS alums have entered the league’s managerial ranks without a ton of coaching experience (or an especially imposing presence) and done quite well, including Jason Kreis (RSL) and Ben Olsen (DC United), or not half-bad, in the cases of Jay Heaps (New England) and Jesse Marsch (Montreal).

(Yes, Marsch was fired, and Heaps’ team finished 9-17-8, but both had their sides playing entertaining soccer, and Marsch’s dismissal was arguably unfair, while Heaps’ team was sunk by a midseason slump.)

A third issue, and possibly the most significant one, is how Petke will handle the locker-room–sized ego of the Red Bulls’ most important player, Thierry Henry. Here’s Petke on that subject at Thursday’s press conference:

“I’ve had two years now to get to know Thierry, and I didn’t think anyone was as competitive as I was, but he made me look like my 5-year-old son. Whether it’s Ping-Pong or the World Cup final, he’s playing to win. I put him in the same category as guys like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in that respect. I have a preexisting relationship with him. There’s nothing to be coddled with these players. I’m going to treat them like men.”

It will be interesting to watch.

On the positive side, Petke knows MLS and the club far better than any European candidate would have, and he’s certainly well-liked by the current roster. Here’s RBNY technical director Andy Roxburgh on those issues:

“He’s charismatic, he’s well organized and he gets the respect of the players. What’s very important in all of this is that Mike is very experienced in terms of the MLS. If you brought a coach in from Europe, he might be experienced in Europe, but he would be totally inexperienced here in the U.S. Mike starts with an enormous advantage because he knows everybody, he knows the league and he’s absolutely passionate about the club. 

Forget the irony that Roxburgh just spent close to 11 weeks trying to bring in a coach from Europe, and he has a point. Petke will be able to hit the ground running in a lot of areas where a foreign coach would’ve been playing catch-up. So there’s that.

Stay tuned to see who comes in as his assistants, and in the meantime, here’s a clip of Petke scoring the second goal ever struck at Red Bull Arena, in an exhibition against Santos (with Neymar on the field) in March 2010:

He’s Fresh from Leading Aston Villa to One of the Worst Defeats In their 139-Year History, So Naturally Paul Lambert Is A Rumored Target in the Red Bulls’ Coaching Search

PaulLambertVilla

The New York Red Bulls opened training camp on Monday, and they selected six players in Major League Soccer’s Supplemental Draft on Tuesday, but they still do not have a coach for the 2013 season.

A number of candidates and rumored candidates have come and gone, including former Portugese international Paulo Sousa (who, according to the European press, turned down the job when the club wouldn’t meet his conditions) and ex-Red Bull and U.S. international Claudio Reyna (who was slated to be the top assistant to Sousa, but also reportedly took a pass on the offer), and now, two-and-a-half months after the team dismissed Hans Backe, comes a report from Big Apple Soccer that they are considering an offer to Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert.

Never mind that Lambert’s team lost 8-0 to Chelsea last month, or that they suffered a historically ignominious loss, on aggregate, to fourth-tier Bradford City yesterday to bounce out of the League Cup (or that Lambert has zero familiarity with MLS or U.S. soccer), the 43-year-old Scot is, if the report is to be believed, being considered a viable candidate by New York.

Sigh.

The report also claims that former U.S. international and loose cannon Eric Wynalda is a candidate as well, so, considering the fact that Wynalda was reportedly eliminated from consideration weeks ago, and the fact that this same publication reported in early January that Gary McAllister had been hired by New York (which turned out to be false), the reliability of this information is certainly in question.

Time, of course, will tell, but in the meantime, Red Bulls fans are left wondering, yet again, what in the world is going on with their franchise.

Rafa Marquez May Not Be the Worst Signing In MLS History, But He’s In the Running

Rmarquez

The New York Red Bulls officially cut ties with Mexican superstar Rafa Marquez today, ending the player’s stormy two-and-a-quarter seasons with the MLS club.

We wondered about Marquez’s apparent character issues when New York signed him back in August 2010, and sure enough, the ones we, and millions of U.S. fans, had witnessed were not an aberration. The guy has a raging chemical fire where his sense of judgment and perspective should be. We’ve seen it time and time again.

A brief review:

• 2002 World Cup: He head-butts and kicks Cobi Jones, leaving the U.S. midfielder flat on the ground and drawing a straight red.

• In a Feb 2009 World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Marquez went studs-up into U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, drawing another red.

• Following New York’s 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake in Sept 2011, Marquez—an eight-year veteran of Barcelona and the captain of Mexico’s national team—threw his less experienced teammates under the bus, saying he played as well as he could but, “I don’t have, unfortunately, [other] defenders on my level that can help me out.”

• He didn’t stop there, either. Asked about fellow center back Tim Ream, Marquez said, “Tim is still a young player with a lot to learn. He still has quite a lot to learn, and well, he has committed errors that are very infantile and cost us goals.” Coach Hans Backe suspended Marquez for one game for the outburst.

• Later that season, following a tense, 1-0 loss to Los Angeles in the first round of the MLS playoffs, Marquez chucked the game ball at Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan, sparking a bench-clearing fracas and getting himself suspended for the crucial second leg. Which New York lost.

Here’s the clip:

• In an April 2012 game against San Jose, Marquez bear-hugged Earthquakes winger Shea Salinas on a corner kick and slammed him to the ground, breaking the midfielder’s clavicle and drawing a three-game suspension.

See it here:

• In the first leg of this season’s Eastern Conference semifinal against D.C., Marquez launched a halftime verbal assault on Backe after the coach replaced him with Roy Miller.

• The capper: In the second leg of that series, just minutes after New York gained a man advantage due to D.C. keeper Bill Hamid’s red card, Marquez gave it back, picking up his second yellow, for a reckless challenge on Chris Pontius. D.C. would go on to win the game 1-0 with an 88th-minute goal.

Marquez finished each of his last two MLS seasons with red cards.

D.C. 1, Red Bulls 0: Hardest ‘Gut-Punch Loss’ in New York’s History?

Game 1 of this two-game aggregate playoff series featured two own goals, a red card, and a missed penalty.

What could Game 2 do to top that in terms of strangeness? Well, after being pushed back a day by a November Nor’easter that dumped five inches of snow on the field, how about two red cards, a mass encroachment infraction that led to a retaken penalty that was then saved, and an 88th-minute winner against the run of play?

Welcome to another bitter, but—incredibly—not atypical, New York loss:

The Red Bulls were poised for a potential game-winning goal when Kenny Cooper was taken down in the box and D.C. keeper Bill Hamid was sent off in the 69th minute. Cooper tucked away the spot kick and New York looked to play out the final 20 minutes with a man advantage. Game over, right?

Not so fast: Referee Mark Geiger ordered the penalty retaken because several Red Bulls (and at least one D.C. player) poured into the box before Cooper took his shot.

United’s backup keeper, Joe Willis, saved the re-take and the teams stayed level at 0-0 (1-1 aggregate). For Red Bulls fans, that was bad, but hey, they still had a man advantage, they were controlling the game, and they 20 minutes to find a game-winner. They were still poised to win the game and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

Enter Rafa Marquez, the same Rafa Marquez who threw a ball at Landon Donovan in last year’s playoffs, the same Rafa Marquez who committed assault and battery on Cobi Jones at the 2002 World Cup, the same guy who criticized teammates in the press, slacked off in games, and the same Rafa Marquez who earns $4.6 million a year from Red Bull.

That guy.

A scant five minutes after New York got the man advantage, Marquez gave it back, recklessly slide-tackling D.C.’s Chris Pontius to pick up his second yellow.

With the teams back on even numbers at 10 v 10, United got a late goal from Nick DeLeon and then watched as Thierry Henry let Roy Miller —Roy Miller, who hadn’t taken a free kick all season—take a last-minute free kick from just outside the box. The Costa Rican defender skied it to the 20th row and New York’s season ended in a 1-0 loss.

The franchise made several front-office changes in the wake of the crushing loss, hiring a new GM and announcing that head coach Hans Backe would not return next season. More on those later.

MLS Playoffs: Rimando, Gspurning Out of Their Heads, Najar Loses His

Seattle and Real Salt Lake have played each other four times this season, and only one goal separates them.

That’s because only one goal has been scored in those four games (in RSL’s 1-0 win in May). Goalkeepers Nick Rimando and Michael Gspurning ensured that on Friday night in Seattle, making nine saves between them, including several of the outstanding variety, in a 0-0 draw.

The game was in keeping with the season series, as attempts on goal finished even at 11-11, shots on target were 5-4 in Seattle’s favor, and possession was an indistinguishable 50.2% to 49.8% for Seattle.

Incredible goalkeeping highlights here:

The decisive second leg of this Western Conference semifinal kicks off on Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium.

On Saturday night in the nation’s capital, D.C. United played New York to a 1-1 draw in an Eastern Conference semifinal first-leg game that featured an unprecedented (in MLS playoffs) two own goals, a saved penalty, and a moment of madness from United’s 19-year-old wingback Andy Najar.

The rising Honduran star turned a yellow card into a red one by throwing the ball (and hitting) referee Jair Marrufo after being whistled for a professional foul in the 71st minute. He’ll miss the return leg on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

See it all here:

The forecast for Wednesday’s game in Harrison, N.J., is calling for high winds and rain. Not exactly what the area needs right now.