Friday, May 30, 2008

Red Bulls Preview: Game #9 @ Orange

How to come back from a beatdown? That's the question facing the New York Red Bulls (3-2-3) as they travel to Houston to take on the two-time defending MLS Cup Champion Dynamo (2-3-5) on Saturday night (8:30p, HDNet). After last Sunday's 5-1 home loss to Chicago, Red Bulls defender Jeff Parke noted that practice was like "walking on egg shells." However, New York is catching Houston at just the right time.

Star keeper Pat Onstad and super midfielder Dwayne DeRosario are away with the Canadian national team, and former Metro Rico Clark is with Bob Bradley's US squad. Defender Wade Barrett is doubtful with an adductor strain, so Houston, which has had a rough start to the season, will be without many key pieces.

New York's Claudio Reyna will miss his third of four matches, and midfielder Dave van den Burgh won't make the trip, as his wife is expecting birth of their second child. Regardless of the personnel on the field, the Red Bulls need points, as the Eastern Conference leaders (NE, CHI, CMB) have begun to pull away from the pack.

Position and Recent Form:
Houston, 11 pts from 10 matches, 5th West, TWWLT
New York, 12 pts from 8 matches, 5th East, WTWTL

Here's a line-by-line look at Saturday's match:

The Houston forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Kyle Brown and Brian Ching vs. Kevin Goldthwaite, Jeff Parke, and Hunter Freeman (and Jon Conway). Sub Brown went 58 minutes in the Dynamo's 2-2 draw at Dallas on Wednesday. He's scored twice in 23 league appearances, but Houston's scoring threat is with Ching, who could have come in handy in the US' 2-0 loss to England this week. Ching's ability to score with his head will be crucial on dead-ball situations. For New York, the name of the game is confidence, which was invisible in last weeks' demolition by the Fire. With the right attitude, and Parke's handling of Ching, the Red Bulls could return to their stingy ways. Advantage: Push

New York's attackers vs. the Dynamo defense:
Jozy Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel vs. Richard Mulrooney, Patrick Ianni, Bobby Boswell, and Geoff Cameron (and Tony Caig). Is Jozy Altidore tired? Distracted? He's certainly leads New York in frustration as MLS defenses key on him. If he's ready to make his move to Europe, a breakout performance won't hurt. Houston is giving up 1.5 goals/match, and a third of their goals conceded are from outside the penalty area. With Caig in net, there could be more. Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Dane Richards, Luke Sassano, Mike Magee, Seth Stammler and Danleigh Borman, vs. Brian Mullan, Brad Davis, Stuart Holden, and Corey Ashe. The return of Stammler to the Red Bulls lineup after three matches nursing a bad back will settle the club from the d-mid position. Richards will have to neutralize the equally speedy Ashe, who helped set up Houston's injury-time goal in Dallas, allwing Houston to escape PHP with a draw. Former Metro Davis always relishes playing New York. Mullan will have his handful in Borman on the left side. Advantage: Push

The Coaches:
Dom Kinnear has done in all in American Soccer: National team player, original member of the Tampa Bay Mutiny, and MLS Cup winning coach. He's walked it and talked it, and questionable lineup or not, his club will be ready. Juan Carlos Osorio has his first true coaching challenge for the season: getting his club to erase last week's performance from its memory, and focus on the task at hand. He really needs better players. Advantage: Houston

With Mark Cuban's HDNet the exclusive television outlet for tomorrow night's match, a large walk-up crowd will create a big advantage at Robertson Stadium. With a daytime high temp of 92 degrees, expect a hot night that'll be helpful to NY's younger legs. Advantage: Push

Prediction: The Red Bulls simply have to take advantage of the holes in Houston's lineup to deliver a victory against a weaker opponent. Houston will be fine in the weak, weak MLS West and will be playing for a draw from the outset. Angel and Altidore both score a 2-0 New York win.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

England v US: Men v Boys

That's what it looked like on the pitch at Wembley yesterday, as England embarrassed the U.S., 2-0 in the first of three big-name challenges before the Yanks start World Cup qualifying on June 15th.

Barely able to maintain possession, the U.S. was outclassed by England, who scored on a John Terry header in the first half, and a Steven Gerrard breakaway in the second. The Yanks had two decent scoring opportunities the entire match: a blast from Eddie Johnson that went wide, and a smart serve into the six-yard box by sub Eddie Lewis that was parried away by England keeper David James.

While England captain Fabio Cappello had his entire squad to pick from, the Yanks were without Landon Donovan, who was nursing a strained groin (ouch!), Brian Ching (with Houston), Taylor Twellman (with New England) or even Jozy Altidore (with New York). In their stead, Josh Wolff, who wasn't had a decent national-team outing since the 2002 World Cup, and a mostly ineffectual Eddie Johnson got the starting nods at forward. Clint Dempsey was neutralized by the England defense.

If the Yanks are to compete on the world stage (next chance: at Spain next Wednesday), the U.S. is going to have to find a way to generate some creativity and offense. None of the players on the pitch yesterday were able to get the job done, not remotely. The match reminded me of the domination that Germany laid on the Americans in the first round of the '98 World Cup in France. That match was similarly non-competitive.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Not much more to be said about the Red Bulls' effort and result on Sunday afternoon at Giants Stadium in a 1-5 dismantling by Chicago. The lineup suspended New York coach Osorio put on the field included central defender Carlos Mendes in a defense mid role, a single striker in JPA, and four-man back line that surrendered four goals in a fourteen-minute span in the second half. As much as the club will want to brush this performance away, the fact is that without roster improvements, New York will find themselves also-rans for yet another year. With the summer transfer window opening soon, Red Bulls fans are praying that the Austrian overlords allow JCO and Jeff Agoos the freedom to spend to the club's salary cap. Otherwise, another fight for a playoff spot beckons.

Dreaming of Wembley

Tomorrow the United States takes on England at Wembley Stadium (3p ET) in what should be Landon Donovan's 100th cap for the Yanks. Bob Bradley brings an A-minus squad to home of football, including EPLers Dempsey, Howard, and Eddie Johnson. The match will televised live on ESPN Classic, and John Harkes and JP Dellacamera preview the match here:

It's no surprise that the English press is all but ignoring the US ahead of the match, notes Yahoo's Martin Rogers.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Red Bulls Preview: Game #8 vs. Flamers

Sunday, the Red Bulls have their first real test of the season as FC Best Buy (aka the Chicago Fire) visit the Swamp with bad blood on their minds.

Despite what you might read in today's press, Chicago (5-2-1) ain't too pleased with the Red Bulls, since NY's current coach Juan Carlos Osorio bolted from Bridgeview after last season, breaking his Fire contract. Of course, the MetroStars absconded with original Fire coach Bob Bradley after the 2002 season, so there's was a precedent for Chicago coaches ending up in New York.

Chicago has retaliated in two ways; one by putting a discovery claim and then signing Red Bull off-season target Lider Marmol, then preventing unhappy Chicago defender Wilman Conde from joining coach Osorio in New York.

On the field, however, under longtime assistant Denis Hamlett, the Fire is on a roll, with five wins in eight starts. Despite a home loss to Houston last week, Chicago's second-ranked offense (14 goals) and top-ranked defense (5 goals conceded) will give New York everything it can handle.

Last week's Red Bulls home draw with Kansas City was disappointing on two levels; first that KC scored on one of their few decent chances all night, and second that it took New York 16 (!) quality opportunities to get the ball in the net. For New York to deliver a positive result on Sunday, it must convert any and all opportunities the stingy Fire defense allows.

Position and Recent Form:
New York, 12 pts from 7 matches, 5th East, TWTWT
Chicago, 16 pts from 8 matches, 2nd East, LWWWL

Here's a line-by-line look at Sunday's match:

The Chicago forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Chad Barrett and Andy Herron vs. Kevin Goldthwaite, Jeff Parke, and Hunter Freeman (and Jon Conway). Though the bulk of the Fire's scoring comes through the midfield, Barrett (with his size) and sub Herron will provide a challenge. The Red Bulls' defense faltered last week only when Jeff Parke was picked from covering KC's Jimmy Conrad on a corner kick. Otherwise, the back line has been the story of the season for New York, especially since the offense has produced only nine goals in seven games. Advantage: New York

New York's attackers vs. the Fire defense:
Jozy Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel vs. Diego Gutierrez, Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare, and Brandon Prideaux (and Jon Busch). When your defense pitches four clean sheets in eight outings, something special is happening. Last week's 2-1 loss in Houston was the first time the Fire had conceded more than one goal in a match this year. The fearsome foursome in front on Busch has played together in seven of eight 2008 matches. Angel and Altidore's production have been way down this season, though it seems that Angel's sore back is finally healing. If any tandem can break through the Fire defense, its the Red Bulls'. Advantage: Chicago

The Midfields:
Dane Richards, Luke Sassano, Mike Magee, Claudio Reyna and Danleigh Borman, vs. Justin Mapp, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Logan Pause, and Chris Rolfe. Blanco is leading the Fire in scoring (3g, 2a), and his ability to score from long range will keep the NY backline honest. As he goes, so goes the Fire. Mapp and Rolfe are huge scoring threats as well. Chicago will miss John Thorrington (3g), doubtful with back spasms. Reyna, if he plays, will be responsible for slowing down Blanco and will need to be at the top of his game. The Red Bulls will miss suspended Dave van den Burgh, especially against the 6' 1" Mapp. Can the Rookie Borman extend his scoring to three matches? Advantage: Push

The Coaches:
Denis Hamlett's promotion to Head Coach in Chicago after a decade on the staff was one of the great stories of the MLS offseaon. Hamlett knows his success depends on a happy Blanco, and his impressive record in the young season is a testament to his ability to get the most of his players. New York's Osorio needs to get his side to finish more chances. Advantage: Push

Blanco's visit will result in a big walk-up crowd wearing Club America jerseys. With many among the Red Bulls' fan base out of town for the holiday weekend, Chicago may be the "home" team on Sunday. It'll be a sunny, warm day on the Giants Stadium turf. Advantage: Chicago

Prediction: With the two stingiest MLS defenses going head-to-head, goals will be few and far between. This is the first real gut-check of the season for New York, and a loss, even this early in the season, could drop the Red Bulls into a flight for a playoff berth. I think the Fire is the better side, and Blanco will feed Barrett for the lone tally in a 1-0 Chicago win.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Please Indulge Me...

A dad can dream of national team glory, right? When he learns to use his left... look out!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Red Bulls Preview: Game #7 vs. Wizzzz

After a gutty 2-1 road win at FC Goldenballs, the New York Red Bulls find themselves on a four-match unbeaten streak heading into Saturday night's test with a Kansas City Wizards (3-3-1) squad looking for its first points since April 20th. New York (3-1-2) will take the field for the second straight outing without injured Captain Claudio Reyna or D-mid Seth Stammler, though their replacements, Mike Magee and rookie Luke Sassano, carried the load well in last week's victory.

The Wizards have cooled since their strong start, and have won only once in their last five matches, scoring just three goals over that span. Will KC's talented Argentines be able to break through NY's second-ranked defense? Therein lies the storyline for tomorrow night.

Position and Recent Form:
New York, 11 pts from 6 matches, 4th East, LTWTW
Kansas City, 10 pts from 7 matches, 6th East, LTWLL

Here's a line-by-line look at Saturday's match:

The Kansas City forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Claudio Lopez and Ivan Trujillo vs. Kevin Goldthwaite, Jeff Parke, and Hunter Freeman (and Jon Conway). Wizards fans were celebrating when the club brought in Lopez from the Colombia and Truilljo from Argentina to create an energetic attack. However, the KC strike force has been off target for weeks as they learn to play together. The Wizards have only a single tally from the run of play (along with a pair of PKs) in their last five outings. Much has been written about the Red Bulls' buy-in to coach Osorio's defense-first mindset, as New York has allowed only five goals in six matches this season. JCO's tendency to shift midfielder Dave van den Burgh to a d-wing position will present an even tougher challenge to KC. Advantage: New York

New York's attackers vs. the Galaxy defense:
Jozy Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel vs. Michael Harrington, Tyson Wahl, Jimmy Conrad and Chance Myers (and Kevin Hartman). The look on Angel's face after scoring his first of the year, the game-winner in LA last week, offered a clue into the Colombian's frustration to date this young season. Neither he nor Altidore, who's been nothing less than a punching bag for opposing defenses, are 100%, but they'll still be quite a handful for KC. The Wizards have allowed a pair of goals in each the team's last two outings, at TFC and at the Crew. That Conrad is tied for the team lead in goals scored is bizzare. Hartman is graying (33), but is still a quality MLS keeper. Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Dane Richards, Luke Sassano, Mike Magee, Danleigh Borman and Dave van den Bergh, vs. Sasha Victorine, Kurt Morsink, Jack Jewsbury, and Eloy Colombiano. Say what you will about Richards' inability to deliver a cross, but his sweet delivery on Angel's game winner last week was pure football poetry. Magee proved his worth at A-mid, and Sassano and Borman have to be considered for Rookie of the Year honors. Argentine Eloy Colombiano (hmm) is a newcomer who'll make his second MLS start tomorrow night. Victorine is blah, but Jewsbury is always dangerous. Slight Advantage: New York

The Coaches:
I have nothing but respect for KC coach Curt Onalfo, a youth star who co-captained the US U20s to a 4th-place finish at the '89 U20 World Cup, was an MLS original (LA, SJ, DC), and served as US assistant coach during the last qualifying cycle. He's a definite future candidate to helm the USMNT. Juan Carlos Osorio clearly has won the respect of his players, and their play shows in terms of effort. Advantage: Push

When you share a stadium with a baseball team called the Kansas City T-Bones, a long road trip is inevitable. KC is will play game four of a six-match road trip tomorrow night, and it'll clearly show. New York comes home for the first time since April 27th, and while a large crowd may not be in the offing if the weather is poor (and even if it isn't), I believe that home cooking will do the team some good. Advantage: New York

Prediction: This is one of those games that is the Red Bulls' for the taking, but Altidore & Angel will have to be sharp and capitalize on their opportunities. Jewsbury will score on a fluky goal, but Angel and Magee will be the difference in a 2-1 victory.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

All-Star 2008: Ambivalence, Ho!

MLS has released its ballot for the 2008 All-Star game, and it's pretty wacky. Wilman Conde, the unhappy Chicago defender who's played only 107 minutes in three appearances for the Fire, is up for All-Star honors, as is Abel Xavier, who's played 224 minutes this season for an LA defense giving up 2+ goals/game. I know All-Star games are big popularity contests, but with a topsy-turvy start to the season (Columbus up, Houston and DC down), one wonders if the most deserving players will make it to the pitch on July 24th.

Then there's the opponent for the MLS All-Stars. West Ham United finished 10th in the EPL this season, and frankly offers little excitement for the hard-core, or even casual soccer fan. Previously, MLS sides have faced off with Chelsea, Chivas (Mex.), and Celtic, all teams with large global fan bases. Even the 2005 match vs. Fulham had the "Brian McBride Returns to Columbus" storyline. While West Ham has a long history, the only opponents MLS should consider are the storied clubs of Europe or South America; Man U., Rangers, Milan, Inter, Roma, Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, Bayer Leverkusen, Boca Juniors, River Plate, Vasco da Gama, Santos, etc.

Lastly, there's word that the rabid TFC fan base may use the All-Star game (at Toronto's MBO Field) to stage a protest of a proposed move by the CFL's Toronto Argonauts to the stadium. So much for soccer-specific stadia! Yuck!

The match will certainly sellout, but with questionable players, a fan protest, and a weak opponent, July 24th may be a day to stay longer at the pool, get some ice cream, or kick the ball around with your kids. Yawn...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Red Bulls Preview: Game #6 @ FC Hollyweird

After a nine-day layoff that most clubs use to get healthy, New York (2-1-2) will travel to Carson late Saturday night without two key midfielders (10:30p, HDNet) to take on a resurgent LA Galaxy squad (2-2-2) that leads MLS in scoring.

Captain Claudio Reyna (left calf sprain) and midfield Seth Stammler (lower back) won't make the cross-country trip, and the injuries couldn't come at a worse time. LA, in year two of the Beckham era, is clicking on all cylinders up front, and Reyna and Stammler would have been vital in attempting to shut down LA's Landon Donovan, who's on a mission this young season (eight goals in six games). Throw in a possible scratch of NY forward Jozy Alitdore (exhaustion) and one wonders if the Red Bulls will be able to keep up.

Position and Recent Form:
Los Angeles, 8 pts, 2nd West, WLTWT
New York, 8 pts, 6th East, WLTWT

Here's a line-by-line look at Saturday's match:

The Los Angeles forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Landon Donovan and Alan Gordon vs. Kevin Goldthwaite, Jeff Parke, and Hunter Freeman (and Jon Conway). When Landycakes decides he wants to play (which sadly isn't always), the all-time USMNT scoring leader is just about unstoppable. So for in 2008, Donovan has wanted to come to the park, as evidenced by his torrid scoring pace that would smash the all-time MLS single-season scoring record of Rocket Roy Lassiter's 27 tallies in 1996. Becks' play has energized Donovan, and lifted the club to a .500 record. Gordon has two scores and three assists on the year. The Red Bulls defense has been its strongest line to date this season, as coach Juan Carlos Osorio had hoped. New York has given up only 0.8 goals/match, good enough for second in the league. Freeman's return at right back is a huge plus. Still, if LD & Becks are connecting... Advantage: Los Angeles

New York's attackers vs. the Galaxy defense:
Oscar Echeverry and Juan Pablo Angel vs. Chris Klein, Troy Roberts, Sean Franklin, and Greg Vanney (and Steve Cronin). To say that LA's defense stinks is a massive understatement. The Galaxy's porous back line gives up 2.17 goals/match and should allow enough of an oppportunity for Juan Pablo Angel to finally get on the scoring sheet this season. After tearing up MLS in 2007 (19g in 24 games), JPA hasn't been able to get on target to date. Without Altidore, New York turns to Angel's countrymate Echeverry, who will also look for his first goal of the season. Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Dane Richards, Luke Sassano, Mike Magee, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Dave van den Bergh, vs. David Bechkam, Brandon McDonald, Troll Franchino, and Mike Randolph. Without d-mid stalwart Stammler and field general Reyna, JCO may turn to Mike Magee to quarterback New York's attack. The return of Dane Richards will help but pressure on the flanks, and Ubiparipovic will get the assignment of slowing down Beckham. McDonald and Randolph have a total of 30 MLS starts between them, but as long as "wicked pissah" Franchino can disrupt the NY attack, Beckham will be all that matters. Slight Advantage: Los Angeles

The Coaches:
"Sexy Football" or not, Ruud Gullit has figured out that his two gifted superstars are all that LA needs to shine. Gullit called out MLS as "amateurish" to the foriegn press last week after the Gals had to call in some friends to play in a reserve match. Do we really need Eurosnobs coaching in the league? JCO is doing the best he can with his M*A*S*H unit of a roster. Is Andrew Boyens the best he can do on the acquisition front? Advantage: Push

LA will be playing at home, where they've scored 11 of their 13 goals. Posh will be there. Real TV star Mrs. Donovan will be there. Maybe Katie Holmes & Suri will be there. Drew Carey may be there. No one will be rooting for the visitors. New York has a single goal in their two road tests to date. Weather will be clear, low of 56. Advantage: Los Angeles

Prediction: Becks and Donovan hit the net once each, but New York gets goals from Angel, Magee, and van den Burgh a wildly entertaining 3-2 victory.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Revenue, Pause, and Progress

Some quick midweek news/notes for ya:

Revenue: DC United takes the plunge with the Volks folks in a multi-year, multimillion dollar shirt sponsorship package. The scum, if you squint your eyes a bit, look a little like Flavor-Flav. Check 'em out Thursday night on the Deuce vs. FC Flat Screen.

Pause: There are a lot of demands being made on superstar-to-be Jozy Altidore. He's here, he's there, he scores almost everywhere. He's darn tired, and may not make the trip to LA this weekend for the Red Bulls' match with FC Hollywood.

Progress: New Red Bull Park slideshow up. Hooray for concrete!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Tied Up in 'To

It's crazy to say it, but the day has arrived in MLS when teams playing at Toronto are satisfied escaping from BMO Field with a single point. Although the New York Red Bulls controlled the midfield, the club left the Great White North with that one point in last night's 1-1 draw with Toronto FC. Both goals were scored in the first half; Toronto's on a header by an unmarked Marco Velez off a free kick in the 22nd minute, and New York's on a curling, ground level free kick by midfielder Dave van den Burgh in the 39th.

The match saw the return to the New York lineup of two starters from injury; of D Hunter Freeman (full 90) and MF Dane Richards (last 35 minutes). Sadly and inevitably, though, captain Claudio Reyna came off the field with a "lower left leg" injury at halftime. Thankfully the club has nine days to heal before the annual trip to FC Goldenballs on Saturday the 10th.

The draw currently leaves the Red Bulls (2-1-2) in 6th place in the hyper-competitive East, but in 7th place on the league table. A rule change in the MLS offseason mandates at least three sides from each conference take part in the playoffs, so if the season ended today, New York would be on the outside looking in.

After the trip to LA, New York plays three of four in the friendly confines of Giants Stadium (KC, Chicago, Chivas) with a road trip to slow-starting Houston throw in.