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My take on the Red Bulls loss to FC Dallas


Here is a little food for thought for Red Bulls fans still considering writing off the season after Saturday’s 2-0 loss to FC Dallas (and yes, there are some fans jaded enough to do just that after a dozen years of suffering).

The four best starts in club history were last season, when the club started out 5-1-2, 2003, when the team began 5-1-1, and 1999 and 2002, years when the team started 3-1.

Conversely, the worst start in team history is arguably 2000, when the MetroStars began 2-5.

How did those years with strong starts turn out? Last year and 2003 finished with first-round playoff exits, 2002 ended with the team finished with the club missing the playoffs and 1999, as most Red Bulls fans remember too vividly, wound up being the worst year in club history and one of the worst in league history. Coaches were fired at the end of three of four of those seasons.

Oh, and 2000? Yes, you probably remember. It was the best year in club history.

So what does this have to do with Saturday? The look back should serve as a reminder that, in MLS, it isn’t how you start, but how you finish.

No, it doesn’t mean that an early-season slump is going to be the pre-cursor to an MLS Cup run, but if you have been following the Red Bulls this pre-season you are aware that injuries and the club’s delay in making transfer window signings have left the club with several holes in the squad. Holes that head coach Juan Carlos Osorio struggled to cover up on Saturday.

Will he fill them in the coming weeks? The transfer window is about to close and Osorio has a handful of defenders he is considering signing.

The dead horse most folks chose to beat following Saturday’s loss centered around Osorio’s decision to start Chris Leitch ahead of Carlos Mendes in central defense. Leitch wound up being beaten on both of FC Dallas’ goals, leading most to assume that if Mendes had started instead of Leitch then neither goal happens and the Red Bulls escape with a tie.

Don’t you just love logic?

Osorio chose Leitch over Mendes because of continued concerns about Mendes ability to play with the ball at his feet. Mendes has never been a player known for his ability to pass the ball out of the back or control possession under pressure. When he has flourished, he has done so as a destroyer with the physical attributes to pester opposing forwards.

So how did Mendes go from a very good center back in the first half of the 2007 season to a player who has seen two coaches pass him up for other options? When Mendes is on a good team that keeps possession well, he can put himself in good positions and break up the attacks that do come his way. Now, when a team isn’t as good at keeping possession, and Mendes has to keep facing attackers coming at him, mistakes wind up happening.

It is for this reason that Osorio shifted Mendes to right back, where in the three-man defense his main responsibility is to mark. Because of this, Mendes saw the bulk of his pre-season playing time at right back, which played at least some part in Osorio’s decision to go with Leitch at centerback.

Why Leitch at a position he had never played? The belief was that Leitch had the speed and passing ability to deal with the FC Dallas attackers, and that since Cooper and Alvarez aren’t known for their aerial prowess, that Leitch’s weakness in the air wouldn’t be an issue.

Obviously, it became an issue less than a minute into the game, and while Leitch is at fault for letting Alvarez ghost in behind him, rookie Danleigh Borman is also at fault for not closing down FC Dallas midfielder Andres Rocha, who had all sorts of time to size up and strike a perfect floating cross into the penalty area that would have been trouble for any defender, not just a fullback playing out of position at center back.

Saturday’s performance wasn’t just disappointing because of the defense though. The attack struggled badly until a second-half surge that saw the team waste several good chances. Here’s a big revelation: The Red Bulls offense struggled without the best forward in the league. There’s a shock, but what should be remembered is that despite the struggles, the Red Bulls still created chances without Angel and Dane Richards, who should both be back in the coming weeks (Angel could be back for this weekend’s game against New England.)

So is there really a reason to panic? Not really, at least not yet. The club does need some upgrades, but nearly as many as some might believe. With Angel, Richards, Freeman and Parke missing the FC Dallas match, that’s four starters the club was missing.

With a new coach in place and a new player or two who still may join, the Red Bulls will have some early growing pains, but as the past as shown us, early struggles are no reason to panic, just as early success would be no reason to go printing up MLS Cup tickets.


  1. kpugs:

    If you’re going to exaggerate and say that Blanco only played “2 minutes” last season you should also exaggerate and say those were the only 2 minutes when Chicago was winning. ‘Cause otherwise it sounds like YOU were the person not watching games last season.

    The point of my original statement was that when you have arguably one of the best attacking mids in the league like Chicago did last season (and this one), a good defense, a good goalkeeper and at least one competent forward, you’re going to be able to win games by scoring once and holding tight the rest of the time. Now contrast that with NY this season and there’s no amount of Osorio “waving his magic wand” that is going make Leitch a good defender, Reyna a few years younger, or VDB a few steps faster.

    So you can say that last season Chicago’s revival was all Osorio, but from what I’m seeing of the Red Bulls this season, I say Chicago’s revival last season was all Blanco.

  2. “People have to stop giving Osorio so much credit for Chicago’s revival last season and instead give the credit to whom it’s due: Blanco.”

    AAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. AAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh man. Sure he’s a revelation, but he’s one player who played about 2 minutes last season.

    What people have to STOP doing is assuming coaches can flick their magic wands and get win after win.

    And, in addition to that, I wish people would educate themselves more about the game before making ridiculous comments on this blog. Before it blew up the comments section was actually worth reading because of the great points made. Now I read this and wonder how someone who has obviously never watched a game in his life, nor ever understood how a team works with regards to coaching, is all of a sudden smugly flooding the site with verbal diarrhea.

    Free country and free speech, of course. It’s just funny how often I know many of us just laugh off posts intended to be serious because of how ignorant they are of the game.

  3. Excuse me while I say TIME OUT. “Michael,” whoever you may be, you honestly just stated that Columbus are better than RBNY?

    Please tell me it was some sort of Freudian slip. Because if not, I’d like you to hop in my time machine to re-watch the pathetic minor-league showing Columbus had two weekends ago. I honestly want to refer you to a psychiatrist to get some meds right now.

  4. Thanks Ives.

    The Red Bulls need a center attacking mid and would be improved with Marmol, a left midfielder with Borman able to come off the bench and another starting defender.

  5. During the offseason defense was a big concern of mine but for some reason I feel better about it this year.

    Last year NYRB set a new MLS record for having 5 games without a goal scored against them(check me on that). Obviously that was not the same defense later on in that year.

    But I believe the defense will figure itself out. A new signing and having Hunter Freeman back may help.

  6. Look, its no secret where the team is weak, we’ve known that since last season. The secret is what Osorio is doing to improve the team.

    How can it be that Jeff Parke is our only real option at centerback? If neither Mendes nor Leitch nor Goldthwaite can play the position well, it would be rational to believe that Osorio would go out and get a proper centerback. He’s had all of the off-season, no? Yet we’re two games into the season and the problem hasn’t been solved.

    Likewise we need a creative attacking mid. God knows Reyna can’t score and isn’t the answer there. Where was Osorio when Christian Gomez was up for grabs? How did he miss that one?

    Rojas and Yepes both replied, “we’ll play for you when you can pay me.” Red Bull Salzburg will come back with a “NO” on Obster. All of this would be alright for January, but not for April.

    People have to stop giving Osorio so much credit for Chicago’s revival last season and instead give the credit to whom it’s due: Blanco.

  7. Given the circumstances of his arrival, and Bruce’s departure, Osorio deserves as much scrutiny as any coach we’ve ever had, if not more.

    Just because he wears a tie and carries a pad and pen doesn’t make him some kind of genius beyond reproach, even this early on.

  8. At this point KC, DCU, New England, Chicago, and Columbus are all clearly, or arguably (Columbus), better than NYRB. Toronto has added 3 starters that will jump start the offense and make them much more competitive – Guevara, Robert, Ricketts.

    Isn’t the reality that every team is getting better, coupled with the fact that NYRB have added no one of significance really the reason, if any, NYRB fans should panic? Defenders have now had a whole year to figure Angel out, and Reyna is as effective as a Vagenas. Perhaps JPO has some summer transfrs already in mind, but you have to be concerned with the stagnation in the face of improving talent across the conference.

  9. Ives, those are all good points to consider, but I still think that at the end of the day, the team would have been better off with Mendes in place of Leitch. It might not have changed the result, but you can’t brush off mistakes that a player actually made by saying that his potential replacement might also theoretically have had his shortcomings exposed. Maybe, maybe not, but what we do know is that a) Leitch stunk up the joint and b) many of us were worried that he would when we saw the lineup. I don’t agree at all that “it boils down to the midfield not putting pressure” – Leitch doesn’t get a free pass because other players weren’t perfect. What it boils down to is the midfield not putting on enough pressure AND Leitch failing to mark properly. Mendes is better at marking and tackling than Leitch. The team would have been better off with him.

  10. JCO made poor line-up decisions last year for the Fire too. Playing Wanchope as a starter was terrible – everyone could see that he was playing veeerrryyy slow. He only scored 2 goals in 12 games (gimme goals if i remember correctly) and he just kept playing him. Granted, the next best option wasn’t very good either (Carr), but at least the kid can motor…which is much more valuable than a tree stump. So as much as JCO has connections in South America and knows the talent down there, I’ve yet to be impressed with his roster decision making.

  11. Fair enough Ives. I certainly don’t think it’s time to panic. Let’s get some of these injured players back and see what JCO can do with a healthy squad. A new player or two wouldn’t hurt either, though I’m not sure that we’re going to find much in the bargain basement.

  12. Matt, whoever said it was about fans “beating a dead horse”? I said folks, and that means everyone from fans, readers and media. The Leitch-Mendes decision became the easy target and far too many assumptions have been made about it as if Mendes being there instead of Leitch would have led to a different result.

    Just because I called the topic a dead horse doesn’t mean I think people can’t beat dead horses. I just felt the need to provide some more insight into the discussion than has been put out there. That’s all. You can agree or disagree, I’m just trying to make you think, not necessarily agree with me.

  13. “Dave Van Den Bergh has played left back enough to handle the job.”

    “Also, Sassano played right back in college”.

    Ives, VDB played left back last year when he was the only player playing out of his natural position in the back line. He is serviceable yes, but you also lose a lot from the attack when playing him at left back instead of in the midfield, which is where he thrives best.

    As for Sassano, FC Dallas isnt UVA or Duke. This isn’t the NCAA. The fact that Osorio feels the need to play 2 different formations depending on where the game is being played still has me confused. But hey, im sure he knows something I don’t.

  14. I know Osorio has been nicknamed “El Profesor” which I believe he takes too literally. He has begun to make simple situations much more complicated than they need to be. Put down the pen and paper and use common sense!!!

  15. Put Mendes at centerback. Thats it. leave him there. Leitch is a disaster and should be playing a-league at the most

  16. OK, it was a lineup decision that didn’t work as planned. But I don’t see how supporters questioning JCO’s decision not to go with Mendes should be characterized as “beating a dead horse”.

  17. Matt, you thinking it was a tactical “gamble” doesn’t mean it was one. It was a lineup decision.

    And Rob C, Dave Van Den Bergh has played left back enough to handle the job. He actually played the position well last season and was not the problem on Saturday, so why even mention him? Also, Sassano played right back in college and was steady on Saturday so how is he an example of a player out of position?

    It boils down to the midfield not putting pressure on two players who then made great crosses/passes that lead to goals. Leitch got beat both times but the midfield deserves some of the blame as well. If anything, I think the other three defenders did pretty well considering they hadn’t played together before.

    Fans can criticize anything they want, I would never say someone doesn’t have the right to criticize. I just laid out some information for people to consider.

  18. I’m not one to panic, although I can appreciate the calming effect this post will hopefully have on RBNY fandom.

    My main problem is that I could–even if I didn’t agree–at least see Osorio’s reasoning for not starting Mendes. What I could NOT see, and still can’t, is how he didn’t come in off the bench at some point. There is no logic there, none whatsoever.

    Then there was the “offense.” I’m sorry, what I ment was, there was getting the ball within yards of the goal and then doinking it around for a couple of seconds before giving it up without a fight.

    And Rob, I can appreciate your frustration but there was only one non-defender playing defense my friend. Calm down, it was only week two, we need you to not have any heart attacks until at least week 10. 🙂

  19. What irks me is that Osorio played a backline in which ALL FOUR PLAYERS WERE OUT OF POSITION. Dave Van Den Bergh is a midfielder. I’m tired of him playing left back. Sassano is a midfielder, though I guess defending is his strength because he showed nothing going forward in the opener. Leitch and Goldthwaite are wing backs. I’m sorry, against any good attacking team, a back line with all four players out of position is going to give up goals, regardless of possession. What’s worse is that they were badly beaten multiple times on poorly executed offside traps. This is because half of the players ARENT NATURAL DEFENDERS. God, Saturday was absolutely infuriating. I knew we would lose the second I saw the lineup.

  20. I think supporters have every right to criticize JCO regarding the choice of Leitch over Mendes. It was not the only reason the Red Bulls lost on Saturday, but it was one of the reasons. It was Osorio’s first real tactical gamble of the season (forced of course by Parke’s idiotic red card against Columbus) and it backfired.


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