MLS Cup 2011 or BustBy: Eric Giacometti | March 18th, 2011
That’s the label that’s pretty much been put on this Red Bulls team by fans and “experts” alike (please note the quotes). With all the expectations that come with having two world-class DPs along with the addition of quality European talent, New York has no other option but to go all the way. The fans are ready, the players are ready; the time is now. The quest for glory begins tomorrow in Harrison…
In a mere 24 hours, the Red Bulls will welcome the Seattle Sounders to the crown jewel of American soccer stadiums, Red Bull Arena. All the pieces are in place for New York to succeed this season: a weak Eastern Conference for the taking, a healthy mix of proven veterans and talented youngsters, and a coach who can lead them to promised land (not to mention a 3rd DP slot that may or may not be filled later on in the campaign). But before we fast forward to November’s MLS Cup, let’s take a look at the task at hand, how New York can dispatch Seattle.
The Sounders are coming off a 1-0 opening day loss to the LA Galaxy. It was an opportunity that Seattle was looking forward to, as the Galaxy have all but dominated them in league play. But the Sounders didn’t have much time to sulk over a wasted opportunity, as they had to hop on a plane to face New York in their second game in less than a week. Don’t count on the Sounders to be hanging their heads, as they’ll be coming out guns blazing against the Red Bulls and looking to get into the win column. Even without Blaise Nkufo, who was released by the club just prior to the LA clash, Seattle still poses a great threat to New York, and are certainly MLS Cup contenders themselves.
New York will rely on the speed of Dane Richards on the wing to help break down the defense and whip balls into the box. As for the forward line, it looks like Juan Agudelo has recovered from his groin injury in time to pair with Thierry Henry. Last year I was willing to give the Frenchman a pass as to his lack of production. He came in midseason fresh off a World Cup disaster and never fully integrated into the team along with nagging injuries that limited his minutes on the pitch. That’s all fine and good, but now it’s time to put up or shut up. And here’s a little quote that bothered me a bit.
- “I never set myself any personal targets before the season,” Henry said. “You reach a time in your career where you want to make the guys around you play better. … We have Juan Agudelo and Dane Richards. Dane Richards is our go-to player. He always makes things happen on the field. We have guys with pace, so I don’t mind playing a bit more in the middle and trying to fit people in.”
Sorry Thierry, that’s not gonna fly around here. Red Bull didn’t break the bank so you could play a supporting role. Henry needs to be the go-to guy in the starting 11. Richards and Agudelo are important pieces of this offense, there’s no questioning that, but there’s a reason there’s an armband on your bicep there; you need to put the team on your back alla Greg Jennings. With Juan Pablo Angel gone, there should be no question as to who will fill that void, it absolutely has to be Henry.
The midfield looks like a formidable bunch with the likes of last year’s team MVP Joel Lindpere on the left wing and the aforementioned Richards on the right. Tony Tchani has replaced Rafa Marquez as the holding midfielder for New York, and has done so admirably. He’s tough to knock off the ball and his poise and precision will be key in helping the Red Bulls win the possession battle. As for as that center midfield spot in the 4-1-3-2, it’s still up the air to me. It could either be Teemu Tainio or Jan Gunnar Solli, with the other dropping back to play the right back position (vacated by the injured Chris Albright). Both are natural midfielders and both have spent time in the central midfield role during the preseason. It’ll be interesting to see how Backe aligns his new additions. Whoever it is, however, will be have to be that link to the forward line to jump start a New York attack and pepper Kasey Keller with shots.
On the defensive side of the ball, the task of shutting down Columbian stiker, and newly appointed DP, Fredy Montero, will fall mostly on the center back tandem of Marquez and Tim Ream. The Red Bulls boast perhaps the most prolific center back duo in the MLS and have developed a good chemistry since Marquez’s switch back to his natural position. Roy Miller will likely man the left side, but the question is, which Miller will we see? The Costa Rican international was so good in the early stages of 2010 but seemed to lose his way in the latter half. When at his best, Miller is a valuable asset as a wing-back who can push forward and create scoring opportunities for New York.
Backe is still making us sweat it out in regards to the goalkeeper battle. He has yet to commit to either Bouna Coundoul or Greg Sutton, but my guess is that Sutton gets the nod. Whoever Backe goes with, Seattle’s potent offense will certainly be a test for either keeper.
Man, this blog is reaching unbearable length; the excitement of a season opener will do that to a guy. Hopefully, you’re heading out to the stadium tomorrow to watch the 2011 season unfold, if not you can catch the action on MSG. The first step to eradicating the heartbreak that was last year’s early playoff loss begins tomorrow night. The quest for the cup is underway…