Friday, March 26, 2010

Red Bulls Preview: Game #1 vs. Fi-yah

After last Saturday's sparkling Red Bull Arena opening match v Santos FC, New Yawk launches into the 2010 MLS season at home v. Chicago.  After a 7-0-3 preseason, can RBNY ride the wave of optimism into a tough opponent that narrowly missed last season's MLS Cup by a missed pk?  No doubt the new soccer management and additions to the Red Bulls' roster has rejuvenated once of the worst clubs in MLS history, but if the coach & GM are "terrified," what does that say for the boys wearing the bulls & sun on their shirts?  Read on as we break down tomorrow night's match (ESPN, 6:55p ET), line-by-line style:

The Chicago forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Collins John & Brian McBride vs. Roy Miller, Mike Petke, Tim Ream and Jeremy Hall (and Bouna Coundoul). Fulham's own Brian McBreak led the 2009 Fire with seven goals, but won't have the legendary Temoc Blanco providing excellent service.  Collins John may just be a breakout star in MLS but the Liberian, who had time in the English and Dutch leagues, may take a while to adjust to the domestic league.  Red Bulls fans have to be overjoyed with the way the back line performed in the preseason, allowing just four goals in ten preseason matches.  Tim Ream looked so composed v. Santos last week that many have named him a favorite for Rookie of the Year honors. Coundoul had many strong saves against Santos. Advantage: New York

New York's attackers vs. the Fire defense:
Juan Pablo Angel and Mac Kandji vs. Wilman Conde, Kristof Krol, Logan Pause, and Dasan Robinson (and and Andrew Dykstra). So you're a good team, and your keeper played every minute of every match in a very successful 2009.  So what do you do?  You cut him! Chicago will go with untested Andrew Dykstra in the net this season after cutting MLS vet Jon Busch.  No, I don't get it either.  Polish D Krol joins a very good defense that allowed only 1.13 goals per game in 2009. Angel, who is nearly recovered from a horrid tackle by TFC's de Guzman on February 27th, should be able to go at least 45 minutes tomorrow night.  Finally playing on a home grass surface, JPA will certainly be among the league scoring leaders by season's end.  Kandji drew a free kick that led to a goal v. Santos, and set up another with a perfect pass to Richards last week.  Will these two finally mesh? Advantage (if Busch was with Fire): Push.  Advantage (with Dykstra in net): New York

The Midfields:
Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, and Carl Robinson (or Seth Stammler) vs. Justin Mapp, Julio Martinez, Marco Pappa, and John Thorrington. Veterans Mapp, Pappa, and Thorrington know how to maintain possession.  With Blanco (5g, 8a) gone, Guatemalan Pappa (5g, 4a in 2009) will serve as the new midfield engine for the Fire. Winger Martinez joins the club on loan from Mexican 2nd division club Leon.  For New York, Lindpere has already been a massive upgrade over Jorge Rojas.  Richards scored a world-class goal v Santos last week, and if he's fully recovered from the knock he received in the 2nd half, he'll be flying down the right flank once again.  Robinson is currently in Toronto, trying to get his work visa. Viva government bureaucracy! Slight Advantage: Chicago

The Coaches:
Both clubs bring veteran coaches into their first MLS matches.  Swede Hans Backe has certainly won over the NY soccer media with his straight-up style, and the players say they all know their roles on the field with him at the helm.  The Fire's Carlos de los Cobos has coached the Salvadoran National Team as well as Tigres and Club America in Mexico. Advantage: Push

Unlike last week, the temperature should only be in the upper 30's around kickoff.  The match will be a sellout, and the Fire will be bringing over 200 fans to the match.  New York will try to ride the wave of support from last week's fantastic friendly win. The Red Bulls supporters clubs will need to unify their voices across the South Ward to be heard loudly and proudly.  If Chicago scores early, the crowd may be taken out of the match.  Still, hard to imagine NY not getting the advantage at home in front of a national TV audience. Advantage: New York

Prediction: Chicago has been picked by many as an MLS Cup Finalist, though the Fire's key player tomorrow will be the untested Fire G Dykstra.  A shaky start or a soft goal allowed, and the youngster will want to dig a hole & climb on in. The Red Bulls get goals from Angel and late sub Conor Chinn and earn a hard-fought 2-nil victory.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thoughts and Pics from Opening Night at Red Bull Arena

There have been very few "perfect soccer days" in my life.  Gio's bike for Metro v Tampa in '96.  Watching the US beat Mexico in the 2002 WC from Nathan Hale's in lower Manhattan.  The US win over Honduras in Chicago last summer was pretty great.  My first EPL match at Stamford Bridge in November was super.

This past Saturday at Red Bull Arena was perfect.  Perfect weather.  Perfect vibe.  Perfect crowd. Fantastic performance by the Red Bulls, and truly the start of a new era in soccer not just for the NY area but for MLS as well.  The 3-1 pasting of Santos by RBNY won a few converts, sold some season tickets, and announced loudly and proudly that this club and venue are forces to be reckoned with.  The Seeing Red crew talks about opening night here.

Here's are my photos from my "perfect day."

Although this Saturday's Chicago match is nearing a sellout, one small experience stands out about the continuing fan conversion process.  On the walk to RBA, my pal, son and I, in full RB regalia, passed a small girl standing in a Harrison storefront.  She couldn't have been older than nine or ten.  As we passed her, she taunted, "Red Bulls are going to lose."  Over this season, and those to come, RB will hopefully win over the residents of West Hudson. After all, RBNY is their home team now.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Being Ugly

Yet another super-fun appearance on your favorite soccer comedy game show, Winning Ugly, with fellow panelists Brian Zygo and Michael Johnson.  Wonder who wins?