By DAVE MARTINEZ
When a team scores nine goals in two matches, it is difficult to concentrate on the deficiencies in the attack. New York Red Bulls forwards Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper have certainly stolen headlines as the No. 1 and 2 goal scorers in Major League Soccer, respectively. What hasn’t received much attention, however, is the lack of cohesion and production in the club's midfield.
Through four matches this year, the New York midfield has managed only two assists on the team's 10 total goals, both of which came this past weekend against Montreal. Stalwart offensive leaders Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards, who combined for 14 goals and 14 assists last season, have yet to register in either statistical category this year. In Lindpere’s case, that statistical impotence is only made more glaring by the fact that he has not managed to notch a shot on net through four matches.
It is a trouble spot that hasn’t escaped coach Hans Backe.
"It’s more that they haven’t been themselves compared to last year," Backe said of his wingers. "I would hope that they can bounce back, but it looks too passive, I would think. It’s too many side passes, and back passes when you have the possibility to take them on, it’s just to encourage these guys. In the attacking game, you need to take chances and not only play safe.”
Lindpere's play has been particularly perplexing. He has followed a string of listless performances with a late game substitution this weekend which saw the Estonian limp off the field, heavily favoring his left leg.
“I actually got three kicks in the same place. Unfortunately, it’s on my leg in a bone area,” Lindpere said. “Three times, same spot, same way. In the last game, my muscle didn’t last and I had to come off. I am practicing, but I am going to be OK.”
The Estonian underwent a sports hernia surgery during the offseason as well. Backe had said that the procedure was minor, and not influencing Lindpere’s game. Instead, the play of both wing midfielders is strictly the product of their own performances.
“No excuses at all,” Backe said. “(Lindpere) just needs to bounce back. I think Joel has picked up in the preseason some hits on his ankles, his calves, and that of course is not 100 percent. Dane, I think he’s that type of player that you never really know what is going to happen. A good day, and he can definitely kill every team, every back four. Another day, he plays more safe, but that’s the type of player he is.”
Neither player disagreed with Backe's assessment.
“I definitely need to lift my game and be more involved,” Lindpere acknowledged, "But also, when you started a long preseason and you lose games, you need to be more worried and see how it combines together. I think it is getting better day by day.”
Added Richards: ”You’re not going to get stats all the time. Just be a good team player and support. Try to make passes that you have to make. You just have to keep playing. They will come.”
The Red Bulls midfield will be in for a test this weekend against the Columbus Crew, as the oft injured Teemu Tainio, who made a big difference upon entering the game against the Impact, is once again in recovery mode.
“I think the ankle is quite ok,” Backe said of Tainio’s most recent knock. “It’s more he has picked up a lot of injuries over the past one-and-a-half years. We need to be clever so we handle and manage him. He doesn’t necessarily have to have five, six sessions a week, so we sit him out.”
To make matters worse, Rafa Marquez was pulled after playing all of 45 minutes against Montreal and has only just begun light jogging and sprinting sessions at today’s training. Dax McCarty has been the lone saving grace for New York in the middle, but it would not be beyond the realm of possibility that neither Tainio nor Marquez will be fit enough to partner with him for the full 90 minutes against the Crew.