BY DAVE MARTINEZ
The New York Red Bulls opened their first two matches of the season with an encouraging offensive flurry and ended both under defensive duress.
Coming into the 2013 campaign, head coach Mike Petke knew his backline was in a state of flux. Nevertheless, he has kept three of the four defensive starters in tact through two matches.
Does he see change coming on the backline against DC United?
“Ya,” he told reporters with a drawn out sigh. “I do.”
It hasn’t been an easy start for Red Bull defenders. From Jamison Olave’s own goal against Portland to Roy Miller’s meltdown against San Jose, the backline has consistently withered under pressure. While Olave remains the team’s most consistent player on defense, all other positions remain unstable.
One area that was thought to be clinched was the left back position. Petke noted his concern for Miller after Thursday’s practice. “I think Roy needs to clear his head a little bit,” he said. “I need to talk to him. We need to figure something out because he is too good of a guy, he has played around the world and to see him letting stuff like this happen to him … I’ll be speaking to him and we will figure it out. Whatever is best for him and the organization can make his head a little better.”
If Miller does indeed sit, that will create an interesting dynamic for the current defensive core. Heath Pearce, who has been the team’s go to partner with Olave at centerback, is still considered one of the leagues top fullbacks despite straying from the position over the past few months and would make an ideal starting candidate. From there, the team’s nearest capable fill-in at left back would be Connor Lade who has struggled at times from the defensive position.
If Petke decides to move Pearce to fullback, it may also open the doors for Markus Holgersson to reclaim his starting spot. “Holgersson is a professional,” Petke noted. “Decisions have been made in the past couple of weeks on who is going to play and who is not going to play. In his own case, it’s unfortunate he hasn’t played but there are opportunities for him. He knows that – we have talked about it.
“Whether he plays this weekend, or the week after or the weekend after, that remains to be seen. He is professional enough to understand decisions have to be made.”
As if there weren’t enough question marks on the backline, the continued battle at right back resumes with Brandon Barklage and Kosuke Kimura going, as Petke put it, “neck and neck” for the spot.
All the talk this week has been about the importance of securing points at home against the team’s biggest rival. That won’t be an easy task with a backline facing a tempest of change.