Two fullbacks were playing in central defense while two midfielders were playing fullback. It took FC Dallas 50 seconds to figure out how to get one past this mixed bag of defenders and the rest of the night was an exercise in frustration for the Red Bulls, who created chances but missed them all and watched as Kenny Cooper buried an insurance goal to effectively end the match.
SBI Correspondent Andrew Keh watched the ugly performance, and like most Red Bulls fans, he couldn’t help but ask questions of head coach Juan Carlos Osorio. Here is Andrew’s take on the match:
A patchwork defense, a loss but some promise from Captain America
By ANDREW KEH
There is a potential pitfall associated with the hiring of a “cerebral tactician” that I admit I did not see coming when the Red Bulls lured Juan Carlos Osorio away from the Chicago Fire: the danger of overcoaching.
I generally have some qualms in second-guessing the game time decisions of a manager—I am not out on the training ground during the week, and I am certainly not privy to the innermost dynamics of the squad.
But from my perspective—that is, in a cluttered college living room with TiVo—I could not figure out the logic in tinkering with a lineup that performed so solidly as to earn an impressive shutout the week prior.
True, the central defender in last week’s back three, Jeff Parke, was out this weekend with a red card suspension. But a simple one-for-one switch—inserting Carlos Mendes in the place of Parke—would surely have been a better option than the awkwardly assembled four-man line Osorio ran out against Dallas, where each of the defenders played outside his natural position on the field.
The Red Bulls paid the price when Arturo Alvarez slipped away from rookie right back Luke Sassano (huh?) and behind center back Chris Leitch (does that sound right?) to head home the match-winner in the first minute. Leitch was burned again, this time by Kenny Cooper in the 66th minute, on a breakaway goal that sealed the result. Jon Conway should have done better on that play and come out hard to cut off Coopers angles. But, then again, what would you do if you saw Frankenstein running with a full head of steam toward you?
One of the few bright spots on the Red Bulls was the play of Claudio Reyna, who looked infinitely more comfortable on a pitch the ever-classy Steve Cangialosi called “the best single surface in Major League Soccer” than he did last week on the Giants Stadium turf.
Reyna received the ball in some advanced positions, but never forced the action, drawing back into space before spraying the ball into dangerous areas on either side of him. He played the type of patient, prodding and probing game that Red Bull fans had hoped to see from the former USA captain on a consistent basis. He even showed some flair, executing a nice spin move at midfield in the 42nd minute in front of a confused Frankenstein monster—who could only knock Reyna down in response—and was inches from scoring in the second half.
The rest of the game, for the most part, was a let down from last week. Jozy Altidore’s season debut was disappointing, though he did look physically bigger and scarier than ever. It’s almost getting to the point where Altidore is looking more and more like an actual bull—the animal—with a big barrel chest that curves down to a comparatively slender and agile set of legs.
This was no more apparent than on one play in the first half, when Dallas’ Drew Moor tried to shoulder-charge Altidore as he careened down the left wing, but ended up flat on the grass instead. Moor, the unyielding defender that he is, got up and backpedaled to defend as Altidore stepped over the ball about seven or eight times. Once the pair reached the byline, Altidore simply nutmegged Moor and went about his business trying to cross the ball to a teammate. It was a complete dismissal on Altidore’s part of one of the more highly regarded young defenders in the league and another glorious hint of what is yet to come from the teenager.
Thoughts on Shep Messing
Throughout the game, I was also amused by the performance of Shep Messing, who I know is a bit of a polarizing figure among the Red Bull faithful. I’ve generally disliked Messing’s commentary for as long as I can remember, and I won’t go as far as to say that I enjoyed it this weekend, but I did find it entertaining.
After Cangialosi ran down a set of MLS news items in the middle of the game, Messing felt the need to say which of those stories he liked, and which he didn’t. As it turned out, the only one he didn’t like was the news about the All-Star Game: “The All-Star Game is a joke,” he said. “Who cares about West Ham?”
Then, in the game’s dying minutes, Messing seemed to reveal an intense somewhat bizarre dislike for Dallas’ Ricardinho, who had come on as a sub. Cangialosi implied that Ricardinho, with his shoes and number 10 shirt, reminded him of Ronaldinho, and Messing chimed in with a spectacularly timed “that’s the end of the similarities.” Minutes later, as Ricardinho held the ball in the right corner, Messing again criticized the Brazilian for his choice in footwear and further disparaged his play: “I’m not forgiving him for the selfish play in Houston last week,” he said. “That’s low soccer IQ.”
Messing’s ire seemed oddly displaced and it was entertaining in that crazy-old-man sort of way. He is a guy that doesn’t always get his names, dates, or facts right, but he is generally honest, which is a refreshing thing these days. He reminds be a bit of Walt “Clyde” Frazier (who happens to be my favorite television sports personality) in that both are like vestiges from an earlier, simpler time, who often have interesting insights mixed in among otherwise crazed ramblings.
Messing’s “Wow” kind of reminds me of Clyde’s “Oh!”—both are unfiltered expressions of genuine surprise at what is happening in the field of play—and their enthusiasm can liven up a poor game, like Saturday’s, or the Knick’s entire season.