Two points lost. That is how most will see the Red Bulls’ 1-1 tie vs. New England on Saturday. The Red Bulls were up a man and up a goal and came away with just a point.
As justifiably disappointed as many Red Bulls fans were after this game, seeing Saturday night as a failure is a slight overreaction. Even if it was just a tie, outplaying one of the best teams in MLS is never a bad thing, and holding one of the league’s best attacks to one good scoring chance all game is also something a team in transition like the Red Bulls can use to build on.
Here are some of my observations from Saturday night’s match:
Chris Leitch deserves criticism for his foul on Adam Cristman followed by his disappearing act on the wall during Jeff Larentowicz’s goal, but anyone criticizing his play in a right wing role just wasn’t paying attention. No, he wasn’t much of a threat going forward but his task in this match was simple, limit Khano Smith’s impact in the game. Now, did anybody even notice Smith except for when he took part in the Revs’ goal celebration? Me neither, which tells me Leitch handled his assignment pretty well.
Kevin Goldthwaite is emerging into a defensive force. I called the trade of Todd Dunivant for Kevin Goldthwaite and cash one of the worst of 2007. I’m hear to say that if Goldthwaite keeps this up, Bruce Arena will wind up being vindicated on that one.
Claudio Reyna was the Red Bulls’ most influential midfielder in the first half. His ability to gain and hold possession was invaluable early on and it is no coincidence that the Red Bulls lost control of the midfield once Reyna hurt his knee and eventually had to be replaced.
The hate for Reyna is getting a bit ridiculous, as evidenced by the attempts by some to blame him for the equalizer. Yes, he turned the ball over midway into the other team’s attacking half, but the Revs went on to string three passes together before Chris Leitch fouled Adam Cristman to set up the vital free kick.
I wonder if the same people blaming Reyna for the Revs goal are crediting him for the Red Bulls goal, since he had more to do with Altidore’s goal than Larentowicz’s. And while we are at it, I wonder how many Revs fans are spending time blaming Shalrie Joseph for Altidore’s goal since it was, in fact, a Joseph turnover that eventually led to Altidore’s goal. Probably not many, because they realize the absurdity of trying to make that connection.
No, Reyna is not Cesc Fabregas or Ronaldinho or Juan Riquelme, but he can be an effective attacking midfielder once the Red Bulls have effective and healthy players at forward and both wing spots. When Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore are healthy, as well as Dane Richards, that is when we will see how much Reyna can truly do from that attacking midfielder role. Even then, the Red Bulls need someone who can partner with Stammler in central midfield to win balls and get passes to Reyna. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, the player they needed just went to Chicago.
Carlos Mendes made his first start of the season and while he avoided any monumental mistakes, he did show signs of the problems that concern the Red Bulls coaching staff. His lateral quickness, first touch and lack of sharp passing ability were not the best and it definitely looks like the transition to right back in a 3-5-2 is something he is struggling with. Mendes is still a servicable centerback in a four-man defense, but I still think Chris Leitch and eventually Hunter Freeman will be better options at right back.
Dave Van Den Bergh struggled all night to get his crosses on target and he just might start losing minutes to rookie Danleigh Borman, whose speed gives the Red Bulls a different element. If Borman can gets his crosses sharper, it might just be a matter of time before he sneaks into the starting lineup, though I’m still convinced that Dane Richards will eventually start on the left flank unless Van Den Bergh finds an extended run of good form like he found last year, or unless the Red Bulls find a way to sign Jorge Rojas this summer.
One stat to consider is the Revs’ total number of shots on goal: ONE. Yes, that’s right. Larentowicz’s free kick was New England’s only shot on goal. That isn’t bad at all by the Red Bulls defense against a Revs attack that had 31 shots on goal in its previous four games (That’s almost eight per game for those of the math wizards out there). Now you can point out the red card but the fact remains that the Red Bulls completely stifled the Revs attack in the first half. The Revs had control of the ball and put together some nice sequences in the first 15-20 minutes but never came close to scoring.
In other words, the Red Bulls defense played well. They set out to stifle Khano Smith and Mauricio Castro and did just that even before Castro’s red card. Even Sainey Nyassi couldn’t get going on the right flank despite a considerable speed advantage over Dave Van Den Bergh. I know it all sounds too much like a moral victory, but what it does mean is that the team defended well, and team defense is the club’s biggest concern, isn’t it? Attacking players such as Angel and Dane Richards are going to get healthy and the goals will come. The question is whether the defense will be good enough to do its part when that time comes. Saturday’s tie gave some reasons to believe the defense just might be good enough.
What did you think of Saturday night’s match? Share your thoughts below.