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I won’t deny it. I thought the Red Bulls were finished.
Watching D.C. United shred the Red Bulls to the tune of a 4-1 rout two weeks ago, I couldn’t help but see the defeat as the first step in a total collapse. Jozy Altidore was off to Spain, Juan Pablo Angel was fighting injuries and Claudio Reyna was wrestling with the looming end of his career. The club’s three best players were either gone, on their way out or in danger of not being the same. All that was left was a collection of youngsters and a list of veterans that didn’t exactly have a ton of all-star appearances to their credit.
A losing streak seemed inevitable, but it didn’t happen. Instead, the Red Bulls rallied to tie a red-hot New England squad on the road, then they outworked and defeated an FC Dallas team that beat them handily earlier in the season. Then they took that star-less squad to Phoenix where it thoroughly outplayed Mexican side Chivas de Guadalajara in a 1-0 friendly win.
Who are these guys?
Who they are is a team that looks to be coming together, and while they still need a major talent infusion to have any real title hopes, and they’re still in jeopardy of missing the playoffs, these rejuvenated Red Bulls are certainly surviving without their big stars far better than anyone could have imagined.
So how are the Red Bulls playing so well? Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio has found a combination that is working extremely well and has made some position changes that have paid big dividends. Here is a closer look at the players stepping up to fill the void:
Seth Stammler: If there is a Red Bulls player worthy of an all-star nod, Stammler is that player. He has been a rock in midfield and helps set the tone for these recharged Red Bulls.
Sinisa Ubiparipovic: After struggling badly in appearances earlier in the season, Ubiparipovic has been given a more offensive role and he has responded by playing confidently and showing the attacking qualities expected when he was drafted last year.
Jon Conway: The Red Bulls history of goalkeepers is an impressive one and this year Conway has lived up to that tradition. He has made countless clutch saves and has grown into a steadying force in the back.
Carlos Mendes: There was a time when Mendes looked like he had no role on the team. That was before Juan Carlos Osorio used him in a defensive midfield role and Mendes has improved steadily there. He has given the team a sorely-needed dose of bite in the middle.
Dane Richards: With Altidore gone and Angel injured, the club was in dire need of forward help. Enter Dane Richards, who starred at Clemson as a forward and has enjoyed his move there in recent games. He hasn’t scored, but he creates problems for opposing defenses with his speed and he could be the ideal partner to run off Juan Pablo Angel when Angel returns.
Dave Van Den Bergh: A truly unsung player in this group. Along with Stammler, I think he’s as influential a player as there is on this current squad. He provides skill on the left flank but also provides some stability in the locker room.
Will the Red Bulls keep the run going against Chivas USA on Saturday? That will be a tough one against a team that outplayed them despite losing at Giants Stadum. As long as the Red Bulls play with the same intensity they have played with the past three matches (friendly win included) they will have a chance to leave Home Depot Center with at least a point and keep the club treading water in the tough Eastern Conference until Angel returns and some new signings arrive.
RED BULLS NOTES
Juan Pablo Angel is going through light training and is ready to rejoin first team training on Monday. His status for the team’s U.S. Open Cup match is unclear but he is a possibility for the July 4th game against Colorado. … Osorio stated that he gave Claudio Reyna permission to participate in the charity game with Steve Nash and that he wasn’t concerned about Reyna potentially getting hurt by playing in the game. …Osorio also stated that he will look to field as strong a lineup as possible for the Red Bulls’ U.S. Open Cup match against Crystal Palace Baltimore in Baltimore on Tuesday night.
What do you think of the Red Bulls rebound in recent weeks? Why do you think the club has been able to keep things together and play so well? Share your thoughts below.