A Supporter’s View: New York Red Bulls

2008_023_4When the patch-work defense took the field at Pizza Hut Park on Saturday night, Red Bulls fans couldn’t help but be worried.

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.

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19 Responses to A Supporter’s View: New York Red Bulls

  1. Dannyc58 says:

    I absolutely despise Shep Messing.

  2. Dannyc58 says:

    First game vs DC last year, he went on and on how he wouldnt refer to him as “Fred” cause he hasn’t done anything yet.

    I’m sure Fred had trouble falling asleep that night cause Shep Messing didn’t respect his game.

    Man I hate him!!!!

  3. VictorM says:

    Shoot me but I like Messing’s commentary.

  4. anotherbodymurdered says:

    “Claudia Reyna” huh? I’m going to have to remember that one for when the New York Re-Brands come to town.

  5. Eugene says:

    Really funny commentary on Messing. I definitely think the guy can’t tell the good players from the bad ones on the team. And I actually like watching Ricardinho a lot, I think he’s one of the more entertaining players in MLS — I just can’t understand how with all of his tricks and foot quickness he doesn’t score more often.

    He’s definitely a fossil from a bygone era.

    I watched him beat a lot of players 1v1 last year and loved it, but somehow the ball didn’t end up in the back of the net for him.

  6. Neumannator says:

    Messing gets a free pass with me. I’ll always have a place in my heart for him after all those NASL games I watched him play in Giants Stadium and Veterans Stadium. Back when there were almost no Americans to follow, he was there.

    Nice article by the way.

  7. kpugs says:

    I always gave Messing a pass as well, for Cosmos ties. But since then he’s grown on me.

    I am very picky about soccer commentators, but not if a guy is the color man and is entertaining. There’s a reason why one guy does play by play and another guy is the color man. I have a way bigger problem when the play by play guys don’t know their stuff, a la Christian Miles.

  8. kpugs says:

    Wow, anotherbodymurdered is so smart, he caught a typo! Amazing! I bet his soccer analysis is way better than the fans who beat out hundreds of others for volunteer blogging gigs! I wish I was that smart!

  9. Joamiq says:

    Andrew: Good stuff. I love Clyde. One of the worst things about this Knicks season was that the team was so putrid I could barely ever get myself to watch their games and listen to Clyde.

    Eugene: Yeah, that is weird, because tricks and foot quickness are automatically supposed to result in goals . . .

    kpugs: Right on.

  10. Modibo says:

    I wouldn’t say that Shep came from a simpler time – an older one maybe. Read his autobiography about playing in the ethnic leagues of NY/NJ. It was one of the only books I could get a hold of about American soccer players in the early 80s, and what I remember about is was Shep getting stabbed in the thigh by some fan during a game. I’m not kidding.

    That’s the way the ethnic leagues were – and in a lot of places still are. They’re not simple. They’re very complicated. And anyone says that there’s no “hooliganism” in American soccer, or who romanticizes the passion of the game across the pond, is totally out of touch with the heritage of the game in this country.

  11. John says:

    Good Stuff, Andrew; and quite funny…

  12. Michael says:

    At one point he also said something like “If you’re gonna have a name like Ricardinho you should be able to play.” The other prescient comment, however obvious, that Shep made was criticizing JCO’s defensive selection by saying that it’s much easier for a center back to adjust to playing as a fullback than it is to bring full backs into the center.

  13. Rob C says:

    Nice commentary. I agree with pretty much 100% of it. I like Shep for his entertainment value, not for the job he does on color commentary. VERY similar to Clyde Frazier…good call.

    I think I posted here a few days ago that I knew we were gonna lose when I saw the lineup. I agree totally with over-coaching on Osorio’s part. I think playing average players in their natural positions is better than putting the players you like more (Osorio seems to have a hatred for Mendes and a love for Goldthwaite) out of position.

    Also, can someone, maybe Ives, please help me out a bit here. Why, oh why, do you change tactics in home vs. road games??? Osorio has said a couple of times that he wants to play 3-5-2 at home and 4-4-2 on the road. huh? Isn’t soccer soccer no matter where you play it? Why not just stick with one formation? Don’t most of the best teams in the world do that and only make tactical changes when necessary in game situations (trailing or leading in the 2nd half). I disagree wholeheartedly with this approach. May Osorio prove me wrong.

  14. nickmustgo says:

    I’m just curious. who do you people believe to be adequate as a soccer analyst? you bitch and moan about everybody on the air.

  15. A.S. says:

    Didn’t see the game, so won’t comment on that. On Shep: I don’t mind him at all. He often comes up with quite insightful comments – and he was the best analyst at the World Cup. The only thing that really annoys me about him is (God help me) his Bronx (/LI/Jersey) accent. I mean, I grew up in Jersey, so it’s not like I haven’t heard the accent before. But, wow.

  16. Mike M says:

    Count me among those who like Shep.

  17. anotherbodymurdered says:

    kpugs, this is an article written by someone purporting to be a “supporter” of this mostly worthless team. You’d think a real supporter would get the name of one of their team’s “best”, DP players right, let alone not feminize him. Really shows the quality of support NYRB enjoys. Anyway, I’m sure you’d take a similar shot at a Fire supporter who similarly mistyped “Cuauhtemoc”. I have an idea, why don’t you go write on your deserted blogger site about it?

  18. Tonerl says:

    Nickmustgo said: “I’m just curious. who do you people believe to be adequate as a soccer analyst? you bitch and moan about everybody on the air.”

    Count me as one who prefers the one-man booth. Soccer is a sport which benefits immensely from a single play by play man who knows what he’s looking at but doesn’t feel the need to comment on every single little occurrence and who chooses not to talk about anything and everything not game-related. The guy on the U-17 WC last summer was blissful. The guy who did those games probably said half as much as we usually get, but most of it added to the game.

  19. Jacob says:

    I’m glad you said that about Altidore’s size. I thought I was crazy, but he looked significantly bigger than he did last season. I noticed it in some of the USA U-23 and National Team games as well. It’s easy to forget sometimes that he’s only 18 yrs old and still developing.