Friday, September 29, 2006

Desperation In the Red Bull Nation

For the second straight season, New York will need a late-season push to get into the MLS Cup playoffs. There are plenty out there that feel that missing the playoffs will do more good than harm for the long-term prospects for the Red Bulls, considering a first-round matchup with Eastern Conference Champion DC United would await in the post-season. Here are the current standings...

Team, Pts, GD, (matches to play)
1. Y - DC United, 55 +17 (2h/1a)
2. X - Chicago, 44, + (1h/2a)
3. New England, 39, +0 (2h/1a)
4. Kansas City, 34, -2 (2h/1a)
5. New York, 32, -1 (2h/1a)
6. Columbus, 27, -16 (2h/1a)

The 10/14 KC at NY match looms, but a Wizards win over RSL and a Red Bulls loss at home to Chicago on Saturday would all but extinguish New York's hopes. Here's how I see things matching up for tomorrow's tilt with the US Open Cup champs.

The Chicago forwards vs. The Red Bulls' back line:
Chris Rolfe and Andy Herron vs. Jeff Parke, Marvell Wynne, Carlos Mendes, and Todd Dunivant (and Jon Conway). Herron (8 goals) and Rolfe (6) account for over a third of the Fire's 39 goals. Chicago's offense has been on... well, has been really strong of late, hitting for 13 goals in the club's last 10 games, including USOC matches. Herron has four game-winners on the year, but has yet to find the net against New York in three matches this season. The Red Bulls have given up seven goals in the last three games. Advantage: Chicago

New York's attackers vs. The Fire defense:
John Wolyniec and Youri Djorkaeff vs. C.J. Brown, Tony Sanneh, and Dasan Robinson (and Matt Pickens). Three goals against DC last week were nice, but none came from New York's starting forwards. Woly has cooled off significantly since the 6-0 RSL game. Youri looks like he's ready to head back to Paris. Chicago, despite its graying back line, has allowed only five goals in its last seven matches. Advantage: Chicago

The Midfielders:
New York's Markus Schopp, Amado Guevara, Danny O'Rourke, and Dema Kovalenko vs. Chicago's Justin Mapp, Chris Armas, Diego Gutierrez, Gonzalo Segares, and Thiago. While Guevara is in terrific form after his two goal, one assist perfomance in DC, and Schopp will be more comfortable with his mates, the Fire's mix of up-and-comers and veterans have stronger help both in front and behind them. Advantage: Chicago.

The Coaches:
Bruce Arena vs. Dave Sarachan. The "master" in this relationship was able to motivate his team to a competitive match last week against a better team. Sarachan "the student" is riding high after beating LA for another piece of hardware for the Fire. Advantage: Push

In my mind, the only way the Red Bulls win this game is if Chicago, realizing they have little to play for, and still in celebration mode from their USOC win on Wednesday, decides to take the night off. If Arena can get his forwards motivated, there is a chance, however small, for an upset. Advantage: New York

The Prediction: Chicago is 4-1 in it's last 5 league games. Over the same span, NY is 1-4. Chicago wins, 2-0.

Television Weekend
Lots, lots, lots on the tube this weekend (all times ET):

SATURDAY, Sept. 30
9:30pm: GER: Wolfsburg-Bayern Munich, GOL
10:00am: ENG: Chelsea-Aston Villa, FSC
12noon: ENG: Sheffield United-Middlesbrough, FSC
12noon: ITA: Atalanta-Reggina, GOL
2:00pm: GER: Werder Bremen-Moenchengladbach, GOL
2:15pm: ENG: Everton-Manchester City, FSC
4:00pm: ESP: Atletico Bilbao-Barcelona, GOL
5:00pm: ITA: Torino-Lazio, FSC
6:00pm: MEX: Atlante-Chiapas, GALA
6:00pm: BRA: Paranaenese-Sao Paulo, GOL
7:00pm: USL1: Championship: Rochester-Vancouver, FSC
7:30pm: MLS: New York - Chicago, MSG, HDNet
7:30pm: MLS: New England-Colorado, DK
8:00pm; MEX: Chivas-Club America, TELEF
8:30pm: MLS: Houston-DC United, DK
8:30pm: MLS: Kansas City-Real Salt Lake, DK
8:30pm: COL: Ind. Medellin-Once Caldas, GOL
10:00pm: MEX: Necaxa-UAG, GALA
10:30pm: MLS: Los Angeles-Chivas USA, DK

SUNDAY, Oct. 1
9:00am: ITA: Cagliari-Inter Milan, FSC
9:00am: ITA: AC Milan-Siena, GOL
11:00am: ENG: Tottenham-Portsmouth, FSC
12noon: ESP: Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid, GOL
1:00pm: MEX: Toluca-Veracruz, UNI
2:00pm: GER: Hertha Berlin-Stuttgart, GOL
2:00pm: NCAAW: Texas vs. Oklahoma, ESPNU
3:00pm: ARG: Boca Juniors-Velez Sarsfield, FSC
4:00pm: ESP: Valencia-Gimnastic, GOL
4:00pm: USA: WNT-Chinese Taipei, ESPN2
6:30pm: COL: Millonarios-Chico, GOL
9:30pm: ITA: Roma-Empoli, GOL

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Carny #5: Metaphor League Soccer

Jeff Bull of It's a Simple Game is hosting the fifth installment of the Carnival of American Soccer.

The question at hand from an MLS noob...
"I need to get into MLS to understand who all the teams are and the relative hierarchy..."
Well, MLS fan-to-be, here's one man's attempt at putting it in perspective for you, in alphabetical order...

Chicago Fire = Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
They showed up on the scene and won, quickly. The 'Lanche's title in their first season nicely mirrors the Fire's 1998 inaugural season championship. Chicago has frequently challenged for the MLS Cup, and has a bitter rival in FC Dallas just as the NHL's Denver club has intense games with the Detroit Red Wings.

Chivas USA = Memphis Grizzlies (NBA)
Here's a relatively new club (discounting Memphis' tenure in Vancouver) that is in its second season, is making all the right moves, and appears headed for a playoff berth. I doubt the Grizzlies draw a huge Mexican crowd in NBA cities as Chivas does, but I believe that "The Chivas Way" will deliver a championship to the LA-based club in the next three years.

Colorado Rapids = Toronto Blue Jays (MLB)
Um, they're ok, but just as Toronto has finished in the middle of the AL East for the last five seasons or so, the Rapids have a similar track record of playing bland seasons which aren't awful, but aren't good enough to contend for a title. A true vanilla team with little personality.

Columbus Crew = Tampa Bay Devil Rays (MLB)
Ecch. Here's a team in a small market that has a stupid name, draws few fans, has little history of success, no stars, and a small payroll. The Crew does have the first soccer-specific stadium in the US, which gets it exactly one brownie point. When the US plays Mexico in Columbus Crew stadium, it's a big deal. As of late, however, there's nothing to be excited about this Crew.

DC United = Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL)
A recent return to championship form for MLS' most successful franchise. A franchise player in Freddy Adu a la Pittsburgh's Big Ben (though Freddy doesn't ride motorcycles). Both clubs are lethal when in form, have iconic coaches, and strong fan followings. Both are usually the teams to beat. DC is currently seeking "one for the thumb."

FC Dallas = Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
Both have silly names. Both are quality teams. Both have distinctive uniforms. Neither have won a championship. Both have relatively new arenas outside of more populous cities. FCD will be trying to reach the league final in its own house for the second straight year. They could just do it.

Houston Dynamo = Tennessee Titans (NFL)
Forgetting the NFL club's poor start to the season, the Dynamo is a good club with a history of success that left town for greener pastures. The Steve McNair/Eddie George era Titans are a nice mirror to the Dynamo's Dwayne DeRosario and Brian Ching. Houston/San Jose has two league titles to the Tennessee/Houston's none.

Kansas City Wizards = the 1985 Chicago Bears (NFL)
The 2000 Wizards and the Super Bowl Shuffle Bears each won their lone titles with stifling defenses. Though Da Bears have been on an upswing of late in their re-made Soldier Field, the Wizards, currently hoping for a new home of their own, have taken a downturn of late. KC is in danger of missing the MLS playoffs for the second straight year... which is hard to do in MLS.

Los Angeles Galaxy = San Francisco Giants (MLB)
Both clubs have a superstar that people even love or hate. Sure, Landon Donovan hasn't been accused of taking steroids a la Barry Bonds, but Donovan's lack of desire to push himself in a top European league stunts the US National Team star's development as a player, hurting the US' chances in future World Cups. This in turn pisses a lot of people off. The Galaxy have won two recent league titles, something SF can't boast.

New York Red Bulls = Arizona Cardinals (NFL)
Yecch. Both of these teams have histories of being miserable both on and off the field. The former MetroStars have had 10 head coaches in 11 seasons. They've never advanced to the league title match. However, as with the Cardinals, a new infusion of cash and a new home (for NY, to open in 2008) portend better days ahead.

New England Revolution = Indianapolis Colts (NFL)
The Revs have recently improved against their history of bad form to become one of MLS' top clubs. New England has reached two MLS Cup Finals in the past five seasons, but have been unable to win the big one. While the Revs don't have a transcendent player a la Peyton Manning, the club does have a cadre of stars (Clint Dempsey, Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan) that can score at any time.

Real Salt Lake = Houston Texans (NFL)
RSL is a new club in its second season. They haven't had success on the field with a roster full of aging stars, but they have attracted large crowds. As with the NFL, however, clubs can radically re-tool from season to season and may be a force in years to come.

Red Bulls Tonight: Opportunity Knocks

Without playmaker Amado Guevara, the Red Bulls didn't look all that great during Saturday's 1-0 win versus Columbus. Guevara and newly-signed midfielder Markus Schopp will be on the field tonight in the Toro Rossos' key match vs. New England at the Swamp (7:30pm on FSNY and FSNE). Here's how the Eastern Conference currently stands:

Team, Pts, GD, (matches to play)
1. X - DC United, 51 +16 (3h/1a)
2. Chicago, 41, +4 (2h/2a)
3. New England, 35, -2 (3h/2a)
4. Kansas City, 33, -2 (2h/2a)
5. New York, 32, +2 (3h/2a)
6. Columbus, 26, -16 (3h/1a)

With a win, New York can leap frog over idle Kansas City and the Revs into third place in the Eastern standings. Here's a breakdown of tonight's key matchups:

The New England forwards vs. The Red Bulls' back line:
Jose Manuel Abundis and Taylor Twellman vs. Jeff Parke, Marvell Wynne, Seth Stammler, and Todd Dunivant (and Jon Conway). Former Mexican NT player Abundis should get his first start for the Revs. New England's Dempsey and Twellman (14 goals between them) have not been as productive as in past years due to Dempsey's absence for World Cup duty. Much has been made about Dempsey's desire to leave MLS for Europe, and while Deuce did hit the net in the Revs' last match vs. DC, it was only his first MLS goal since July 4th. The Revs have only scored three goals in their last six league games. The Red Bulls have been decent on defense of late, allowing only six goals in the club's last seven matches. Dunivant's return from an injury should lift the club. New York's Carlos Mendes is out with yellow card points. Advantage: New York

New York's attackers vs. The Revs' defense:
John Wolyniec and Edson Buddle vs. Avery John, Michael Parkhurst, and Jay Heaps (and Matt Reis). Despite Wolyniec's tenacity and Buddle's skill, Red Bull fans know that striker is one position that Coach Bruce Arena will be looking to improve for next season. Mike Magee is out serving a suspension, so look to last week's teen hero, Jozy Altidore, to come off the bench to deliver a late spark. Remove New England's embarrassing 0-3 loss at Columbus on September 2nd, and the Revs have allowed two goals in their last five games. Note that only I may find interesting: Jay Heaps has appeared in 226 league matches. Amazing. Advantage: New England

The Midfielders:
New York's Markus Schopp, Dema Kovalenko, Amado Guevara, and Youri Djorkaeff vs. New England's Troll Franchino, Andy Dorman, Clint Dempsey, Jeff Larentowicz, and Steve Ralston. With the UN General Assembly gathered in New York, it's appropriate that the Red Bulls go with all-international midfield. The 6'2" Schopp certainly won't be at 100% in d-mid in his first MLS game (Danny O'Rourke may play depending on Schopp's fitness). Dempsey moves to midfield for the injured Shalrie Joseph. The Revs midfield (short of Larentowicz) is a veteran solid group that's played as a unit all season long. Advantage: New England

The Coaches:
Bruce Arena vs. Steve Nicol. After watching and listening to Il Bruce these last few weeks, one surmises that NY is mailing in this season ahead of a major retooling in 2007. Still, it has been an historic week in Red Bulls history, and perhaps Arena will push his team hard. Nicol is Scottish, yes, but his team is only 2-2-5 in its last nine MLS games. Advantage: Push

New York has a two-year reprieve on hearing "60-90 days"... until inevitable weather delays hold up the opening of Red Bull Park in the Summer of 2008. At least the Revs will be playing in front of thousands of empty seats instead of a massive blue tarp. Advantage: New York

The Prediction: The lack of cohesion between the Red Bull midfielders will give the Revs the advantage. New England wins, 1-0.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

First Hand Account: Red Bull Park Groundbreaking

A link to photos of today's event can be found at the bottom of this post.

Politicians, soccer executives, media members and hundreds of Red Bull fans gathered in Harrison, NJ today to celebrate the groundbreaking to Red Bull Park, the first component of a $1 billion redevelopment of the Hudson County town across the Passaic River from Newark.

The trip from midtown Manhattan took about 35 minutes to get to Harrison on the PATH train with a change of trains in Journal Square. The Harrison station, which is to undergo a $50 million facelift, left little to be desired, and the ten-minute walk to the stadium site took fans past energy substations and construction parking lots. A decades-old brick wall down the left side of the street gave way to a four-story abandoned warehouse, where signs and red and yellow balloons directed visitors around the corner to a full-on construction site where bulldozers sat at the ready and construction workers surveyed the land.

A "Welcome to the Site of Red Bull Park" sign greeted visitors, and a samba drummer and two bikini-clad samba dancers entertained fans waiting for the program to begin. A bulldozer and soccer goal with Red Bull park signs on them awaited the golden ceremonial shovels. Longtime Metro and Red Bulls fans mingled with Shep Messing, Bogie of the Cosmos, and Nick Sakiewicz, to whom the day clearly belonged.

Three large tents kept most the crowd out of the hot midday sun. Fernando Fiero of Univison's Republica Deportiva had made the trip from Miami to emcee the program. Fiero professed to being a "Jersey Boy," who arrived in the US from Argentina in 1980 with little English, and settled in Hoboken before his success in the Hispanic media world. He told the crowd that MLS was his favorite soccer league, and added that he missed his beloved Miami Fusion. His love of the league may more to do with Univision's new MLS contract, however, than his passion for American futbol.

Nick Sakiewicz was next to speak, and he noted the trials and tribulations he'd experienced since launching the stadium effort in 2000. Love him or hate him, Sakiewicz has stuck with the project through the days that it seemed unlikely to materialize. Sakiewicz noted that Red Bull's infusion of cash made it possible for the project to move forward. One wonders if Uncle Phil would have made the project a reality if Red Bull had not stepped up in March to purchase the team.

Numerous NJ politicos got their moment in the sun, including former Governor Richard Codey, who kicked off with a few off-color jabs at his disgraced predecessor Jim McGreevey.

MLS Commissioner Garber noted the day's importance for the future of MLS and American Soccer, and confirmed that the league would have 16 teams by the 2010 season.

Sadly, it was time to head back to work before I could see the shovels hit the dirt, but camera crews from SNY, NJN, and channels 7 and 47 were on hand to record the event and surely will have coverage tonight, as well as the major print media for tomorrow's papers.

It's a new era for Red Bull. Here's to hoping the investment of the field will be matched by an investment on the field.

Click here to see photos of today's event.