As the Red Bulls returned to Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night, after a shocking defeat over F.C Dallas (sans regulars Henry, Solli and Marquez) there was a tiny glimmer of hope that the team may actually be able to turn around the season that has become a disgrace for any loyal fan. They had broken their tie streak against one of the strongest teams in the MLS, but it merely took seven minutes for RBNY fans to remember who they were watching, as RSL started their thrashing with their first goal in the 7th minute.
The seven minutes leading up to the goal was also the only time during the game where the Red Bulls seemed determined, even angry, perhaps angry enough to win another. However that fire only lasted until the first goal of the evening came from RSL striker, Alvaro Saborio in the 7th minute, to the pleasure of the small contingency of RSL fans that made the trip to the East Coast. Four minutes later, RSL once again displayed their greatness when Fabian Espindola ran circles around RBNY defender, Tim Ream, and GK Rost to put RSL up by two goals. And just for good measure, Espindola scored RSL’s third goal in the 21st minute, breaking through RBNY’s defensive backline and exposing the weakness in the goal. It would be his 9th goal of the season, and would put RSL in a comfortable spot; one that had exposed all the flaws in RBNY’s makeup.
For RBNY, the night could not possibly have gone any worse; Backe had all his regulars back in healthy shape, but that too would prove insufficient in a “must win” game; strikers Rodgers and Henry looked as though they had never trained together, repeatedly unable to find one another in front of the net. The midfield looked in disarray as Tainio and Mccarty’s once dynamic chemistry seemed to have faded, with Richards making lone runs along the flanks, while Joel Lindpere seemed to be the only player hungry for a win. But the story of the night had to be the disgraceful attempt by the back four; Marquez seemed to have worn out his welcome in the Big Apple, as fans booed every time he touched the ball. A DP who seems unenthused about playing for this team, a player who barely seems to run while on the field, a player the fans had seen enough of. Albright, who seemed to be coming around, incurred a right calf injury in the 13th minute, one that would end the evening for him, and most likely the season. Ream, the defender of choice for any RBNY fan having a particularly bad night, as it was an individual mistake from him that allowed one of RSL’s goals, and finally, Solli, who seemed to be flailing about. RBNY had gone from “the team that could” to one that left fans asking themselves, “Why do I still believe this team has a chance at making the playoffs?”
Frustration ran high as a goal by Lindpere was disallowed in the 66th, with many questioning the call but since MLS does not utilize goal line technology, one may never know. Perhaps the anger of the goal being disallowed pushed Lindpere as he found the net three minutes later in the 69th with a classic bicycle kick coming off of a corner kick by Rafa, which would be his 7th goal of the season, and rejuvenated the crowd for a few minutes, until the reality sunk in that this “must win game to make the playoffs” was pretty much a wrap. Regardless of the horrendous play by the team, the player of the evening for RBNY was undoubtedly Joel Lindpere and perhaps if I am allowed another, a great display of tenacity by Dane Richards.
True to form, Coach Hans Backe waxed poetically about the team performance; “I don’t think we played poorly, but it’s frustrating with that kind of individual mistakes that killed the first half.” He praised the team on coming out strong in the second half, and seemed positive about Saturday’s game against the Portland Timbers. Furthermore, he stated that all they need to make the playoffs is to win the next three or four games out of the remaining six. At what point is he going to realize that this team is more than likely out of the playoffs; they may have beaten FC Dallas in a shocking defeat on the road, but let us keep in mind, that was the first win since July 6th amidst a season that has seen fifteen ties.
At this point, there is nothing left but to ask “What went wrong?. Backe managed to take this team from last place to first in the East in a matter of one season, only to follow it with a season that saw the team unravel in front of our eyes. What is to blame; the disastrous DP decisions, the ghastly goalkeeping, the disastrous defense or simply the mindboggling miscommunication amongst a team that looks rock solid on paper but seems to lack the much needed chemistry on the field?
One must start the unraveling of this team by looking at the defensive line; individually the back four are great, with the likes of Tim Ream who manages to fill the defensive spot on the National Team without a doubt. But the real story here would have to be Rafa Marquez, who shares the same fate as Ream; while playing with “El Tri” he is undoubtedly one of their best players, but with RBNY that does not seem to carry over. The fans let him know how they felt last night, and postgame his comments regarding the team definitely added fuel to the fire. Marquez stated that the rest of the team is not up to his and Henry’s standard, calling individual mistakes by Ream “juvenile”. For a team that needs solidarity more than anything else, his statements may have widened the gap.
Furthermore, RBNY lacks speed with the only player showing that skill being Dane Richards; what good is it if Dane can make breakaways, but the rest of the team cannot make it to the box in time for it to be a potential goal? It may be time to use the youthful and faster players that RBNY has on the bench, but as everyone has seen, Backe does not like to make substitutes and barely ever utilizes any of the rookies. That leads me into another problem, Backe seems blind to the reality of the down ward spiral the team has taken, almost afraid of switching up his starting eleven, and only forced to do so when injuries or yellow card accumulation forces him to. For many, Backe was the answer to their problems…last season, but now the reality is that most want to see “Backe go home”.
The season has also seen a large amount of injuries in the squad which could be to blame for the season that seemed to be one that will be remembered as a “tie-ing” one-RBNY now tied with Chicago Fire for most ties in a season. Others choose to blame the bad trade decisions that were made by RBNY; seemingly every player that was traded has gone on to become the star of their respective teams, with the most recent being Dwayne De Rosario. Understandably, De Ro did not fit Backe’s system, but perhaps building the team around him, as opposed to players such as Henry and Marquez might have been a better decision. If anything, why not try that for one full season before trading him for Dax Mccarty, who despite all the hype has not done much for RBNY’s midfield.
Finally, the miscommunication amongst players is one that is far more than simply disgraceful; it is something that can be seen in any game over this past season; how many opportunities in front of the box were given up due the lack of communication? Perhaps enough to have solidified a win as opposed to a tie in one of the 15 tied games this season. Unity is definitely lacking in the squad as the quest for individual glory seems to be at the top of everyone’s agenda.
What is next for RBNY is anyone’s guess; a new coach, a new team, new DP’s….only time will tell as the tale of RBNY and their woes continue. Realistically, this season is over for RBNY. As much as I like a good comeback story, I find it highly unlikely for RBNY to pull the three of four needed wins out of the remaining six out of their bags. The last few matches were labeled “must wins” and the team seemed to play in the same manner as before. Come Saturday, RBNY is set to face heavyweights, Portland Timbers at RBA in yet another “must win” game; is there truly any hope left?
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