Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Red Bulls: At the Quarter-Pole

After seven games, the New York Red Bulls have built the foundation for a hugely successful 2007 season. The club has won points in six of its seven matches, averaging two points in the standings each time it takes the field. New signings Juan Pablo Angel, Claudio Reyna, Ronald Wattereus, Clint Mathis, Dave van den Burgh, Hunter Freeman and Dane Richards have jelled well with holdovers Jozy Altidore, Carlos Mendes, Jeff Parke, Todd Dunivant, Dema Kovalenko, Jon Conway, and Seth Stammler to form a club that is air-tight in the back (only four goals allowed) and scores goals in bunches (a 3-0 win vs. Dallas, the 3-3 draw at RSL, a 4-0 win last Saturday vs. Columbus).

To date this season, the team has performed dreadfully on only two occasions; the last ten minutes of the draw at RSL (when two precision-guided scores by Salt Lake deprived NY of two points), and the Reyna-less 0-1 home loss to Colorado.

There's no denying that New York in vulnerable without Reyna in the lineup, but a re-energized Clint Mathis has helped pick up the slack, and the veteran leadership of Kovalenko, JPA, and the Walrus has ensured that the club doesn't stay unfocused for long. Kudos must go out to Bruce Arena, not only for creating a winning atmosphere around the team, but also for working in reserve-team players late in games to provide them with a little seasoning. Already this season, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Joe Vide, Ellie Ikangu, Sal Caccavale, and Jerrod Laventure have seen first-team minutes, with Sinisa and Sal combining on a goal the last time out.

New York will be challenged by five road matches (and six matches against the East) in its next eight, though the Red Bulls are currently unbeaten (1-0-2) on the road. After tomorrow's home match vs. Chicago (7pm et, ESPN2) New York hits the road for three straight, at Kansas City, Toronto, and DC United. After a home match against the Wizards, New York is away for three once again, at Columbus, Houston, and Colorado.

Though rosters have yet to be announced, the Red Bulls shouldn't be missing too many players for the summer's Gold Cup, Copa America, and U-20 World Cup tournaments. Altidore surely will be on the U-20 squad, and JPA may be called in by Colombia for Copa America, so New York's stingy defense may be even become crucial to the team's success. Without the US Open Cup crowding the schedule, the Red Bulls will be able to focus its energy on winning the club's first Supporters' Shield.

Much has been written about the club's inability to attract fans this year. RB GM Marc de Grandpre recently noted on BigAppleSoccer that the club's focus has been on-field improvement this season rather than marketing. Red Bull should be commended for a fantastic job of making the club better. Hopefully NY-area fans will take notice, and show up to support the team. Starting tomorrow at 7pm, fans can start showing support for what may be the best New York team in league history.

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