New York Red Bulls have plenty to thank their rivals for
Red Bulls find that with enemies like these who needs friends?
Before the season started there was a now infamous town hall meeting between long term Red Bulls fans and the new management team. It was a fractious affair, as angry supporters vented about the sacking of coach Mike Petke, who had won the team’s only trophy in its history and taken the side to within a goal of Cup.
A shaken but defiant Red Bull leadership bunkered down in the wake of that meeting, and began to make a virtue of siege mentality as a theme for the season – a season where a collective ethic would replace the lopsided star power of the Thierry Henry era.
And so far it’s worked – especially when the Red Bulls have played with the spotlight on them for their bigger rivalry games. Nine points against a organization that picked up the conspicuous spending where Red Bulls left off, was a particularly satisfying response to the brash newcomers. But just as satisfying (and significant for playoff implications) are the seven points the Red Bulls have now taken off DC United this season, following this weekend’s emphatic 3-0 dismantling of the visitors at Red Bull Arena.
If it wasn’t for Bill Hamid in the DC goal the margin would have been greater as well. For the opening half hour of the game, a heavily bunkered DC defense rode their luck against the New York pressing game, barely supported by a midfield where the likes of Perry Kitchen looked uncharacteristically anonymous. And repeatedly the last line of defense was an outstretched Hamid limb improvising a reaction stop.
Hamid has been the player who kept DC’s lead at the top of the East unassailable for so long – he’s surely the team MVP in a year when the team has ground out result after result rather than looking irresistible. There was only so much the goalkeeper could do on Sunday night however, as a motivated Red Bull team broke wave after wave of attacks upon his goal — and when Bobby Boswell gave the ball away to allow Bradley Wright-Phillips to tee up Lloyd Sam for the opener, Hamid could do little as .
Hamid could do even less about or the second half . He could point to errors by Steve Birnbaum and Sean Franklin respectively on those goals, while the Red Bulls could point to each of their players for their contributions to one of the side’s most complete performances of the year, and against an arch rival at that.
And there’s the one note of caution for this Red Bulls team. These games played with a chip on the collective shoulder and with a point to prove are one thing, but the same intensity has gone missing in other games – most recently in the midweek loss to struggling Chicago Fire. The Red Bulls could have ended the weekend top of the East if they’d shown the same sharpness on Wednesday that they did on Sunday night, and that’s why the Red Bulls locker room had a certain circumspection about it on Sunday, even after this big win over their old rivals. That next step of dominating week in week out still eludes them. It seems that for the Red Bulls, their enemies are not the problem so much as their casual acquaintances.
On that note, there’s another town hall meeting this week – which on the season’s form so far promises to be a much more upbeat one than the first one – but given what’s worked so far perhaps New York’s management ought to put thumb tacks on every chair. GP
San Jose are running on Dominic Kinnear time
When Dominic Kenner was coach at Houston Dynamo it became a standing joke that his team would basically lie dormant through spring before waking up in July and starting a slow crank into playoff form that would see his team peaking at exactly the right moment. They wouldn’t always be the strongest team in the playoff series they’d roll into annually, but they had a habit of hitting form at just the right time to take advantage of any stalled momentum from those around them — Sporting Kansas City, and DC United are just three teams who’ve endured baffling (to them) season ending experiences against Kinnear teams, often after lopsided dominance against them in the regular season.
And now back at his first love, , Kinnear might be doing it again. For long stretches this season, it had looked like the most memorable aspect of the campaign might be the new Avaya Stadium, replete with the longest outdoor bar in North America or LOBINA, as it is affectionately known in social media circles.
San Jose were stuck on (or near the bottom of) the Western Conference standings for most of the year. And while they’d demonstrated a handy knack of ending the runs of teams in form, they’d failed to build momentum at any point, while still somehow never being quite out of the playoff running. Sound familiar?
And on Friday night, San Jose were at it again. The all-conquering – they of the Robbie Keane goal barrages, blowout wins and give-them-the-trophy-again form – were beaten 1-0 at the Avaya Stadium. It was the Earthquakes fourth consecutive win and fourth consecutive clean sheet and it moved them into the playoff places.
San Jose were certainly helped by a red card to Leonardo early in the second half, but a 374-minute stretch without conceding a goal is no accident, and nor is the fact that San Jose have conceded only six goals all year at their new home. They’re at home for the next two games as well — a very winnable match up with Philadelphia next week, and then an intriguing game with Seattle, who are tied on points with the Earthquakes and currently just edging them in the standings. But where the Sounders look to be inching back to form just in time to save their playoff hopes, the Earthquakes have a game in hand on them and the Kinnear calendar on their side. Has he timed his run right yet again? GP
The Seattle Sounders may just have salvaged their playoff hopes
Somewhat unconvincingly, Sigi Schmid always claimed – as his side slumped hard over the summer – that all the needed to turn things around was a dose of luck. Of course, after seven defeats from eight games it’s most likely that Schmid – just like everyone else – had simply run dry on ways to explain his team’s collapse, but in Sunday’s win over the Portland Timbers, Seattle finally got that luck. And plenty of it.
Obafemi Martins’ opener after just six minutes was the result of some dumpster-fire defending by the Timbers, with Brad Evans’ second-half goal the result of a penalty kick that probably shouldn’t have been a penalty kick. Defensively too, the ball bounced a few times in the Sounders’ favour (although that might have been down to the CenturyLink Field playing surface, which was even more plastic than usual).
Going on the distressed expression of Caleb Porter throughout the defeat, the Timbers were certainly left aggrieved at the way Sunday’s match turned out. Indeed, Portland claimed more possession, had more shots on goal (19 to the Sounders’ six attempts) and dictated large periods of the contest, only to suffer a 2-1 defeat to their Cascadia rivals. Seattle were, for the most part, second best, but ultimately came out on top.
And from their point of view, it’s just as well they did. The Sounders kicked off just three points above bottom place in the Western Conference, with the season now simply about salvaging a post-season place. But with victory over the Timbers, Seattle now find themselves once again in the top-six and back on track to achieve their improvised objective. With the Houston Dynamo and the San Jose Earthquakes making unexpected runs, this result was very much needed.
Seattle have spurned such turns in fortune before, though. The 4-0 win over Orlando City two weeks ago was heralded as the kind of result to provide the Sounders with a late-season platform heading into the playoffs, and yet it was followed up with an insipid 2-0 defeat to struggling Real Salt Lake. But with victory over Portland, next week’s home clash against Toronto FC gives them the chance to make it three wins from four games, which would represent a marked upturn in form for a side that looked to be heading in only one direction (downwards, in case you weren’t clear) just a few weeks ago.
Perhaps the biggest positive to be drawn from Sunday’s win was the second half cameo of Osvaldo Alonso. The Cuban-born midfielder has struggled with injury of late, but came on to settle the Sounders as they looked to see out the result against Portland. He made the difference, with Seattle a much more composed side on the ball following Alonso’s introduction. Schmid might not to rely so much on luck from now on. GR
Frank Klopas deserved to lose his job at the Montreal Impact
It took Frank Klopas just four months to go from the Concacaf Champions League final to the nadir that ultimately cost him his job. Of course, the defeat to Toronto FC in itself wasn’t enough to force Joey Saputo into a change of management, but add that result on to the two successive losses that preceded the jaunt to BMO Field and it became difficult to make Klopas’ case. As it turned out, the arrival of Didier Drogba a month ago was only a distraction to the malaise at Stade Saputo.
Of course, Klopas’ appointment at the was puzzling to begin with. The former USA international showed little over the course of his two years at the Chicago Fire to suggest that he could handle the often tumultuous environment in Montreal, and certainly wasn’t a step-up in caliber from Marco Schallibaum. Indeed, Klopas leaves the Impact with a win percentage of just 30 percent compared to his predecessor’s 39.5%.
But Klopas’ dismissal was prompted by more than just results (although that was obviously a major factor). Too often what Klopas said didn’t match up with what he actually professed as a coach on the pitch. For instance, the 48-year-old insisted before the Toronto game that Montreal would look to play with more width – and yet when it actually came to it, he stuck Dominic Oduro up front on his own, meaning the natural impulse to launch direct balls up to the Ghanaian took hold.
Montreal also became the softest team in Major League Soccer under Klopas’ stewardship. When the Impact have conceded first, they have failed to win a single game – drawing just once and losing 10. Had it not been for Ignacio Piatti – who almost single-handedly carried Montreal over much of the summer – Klopas might have been out of a job even sooner.
And yet Klopas will go down as the coach who led the Impact to the Concacaf Champions League final – taking the club as far as any other North American side has ever gone before. That thrilling run was quite an achievement – even if Montreal rode their luck at times throughout the competition – but the Impact failed to translate that form to the league. Klopas found out the hard way that games in hand don’t count for as much as points on the board.
Assistant coach Mauro Biello will now take charge for the remainder of the year, and with 11 fixtures left on the slate there is still time to turn things around. Saputo may have earned himself a toxic reputation for being irrationally impatient with coaches in the past, but this time he made the right call. GR
New York City FC were a better team without Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo’s New York City FC career to date has been catalogued in gifs and Vines. Every raking cross-field pass made by the Italian has been captured in six-second video form and shared on social media, usually accompanied by a tagline underling his cult status. ‘No Pirlo, No Party’ they say, but in truth – when judged on more than just Vine-able snapshots – Pirlo might actually be NYC FC’s party pooper.
Sure, the 36-year-old is good for the odd exceptional through ball – and his facial hair game is strong enough to give even Nat Borchers beard envy – but he has disrupted the balance that Jason Kreis’ side had started to find before the Italian’s arrival in July. NYC FC were actually a better team – and certainly a more resolute one – without Pirlo.
With every game, the sense that the former Milan and Juventus man was forced upon Kreis heightens. Pirlo just isn’t the right kind of player for NYC FC’s midfield, neither possessing the energy nor the drive to implement the high-pressing, fast moving style of play envisaged at Yankee Stadium. Every so often NYC FC benefit from a pinpoint Pirlo pass over the top from deep – like the one played for David Villa in the win over – but generally speaking, they are suffering from having the Italian as a passenger in midfield. With Pirlo playing NYC FC’s play is slower, more ponderous and easier to defend.
What’s more, Pirlo’s involvement gives NYC FC a lot to compensate for defensively. Take the Columbus Crew’s opener in Saturday’s 2-1 win in the Bronx, for instance. Federico Higuain didn’t have to wriggle much to shake off the attentions of his Italian marker, heading in a corner kick delivery under little – if any – pressure. While Pirlo is revered for his effortless, languid style, that characteristic becomes something of an issue for Kreis when it results in the concession of sloppy goals.
Even the assist for Villa’s goal against DC United – which was undoubtedly a snippet of Pirlo at his best – was undermined by the Italian playmaker’s overall performance that evening. Maybe if Vines lasted for more than six seconds more would be aware of how Pirlo is handicapping NYC FC – although that was long enough to capture the wayward pass that led to a DC United goal in the same game. It is perhaps the most damning indictment of the Italian’s time in MLS so far that even his passing has been substandard.
The idea is surely that with Frank Lampard the furthest forward of the central trio, Mix Diskerud on the right side of the attacking frontline and Andrew Jacobson the cart horse supporting it all, Pirlo is the pass-spraying sprinkler at the base of NYC FC’s midfield. But while that theory is solid, it is yet to translate into consistent results. Kreis must know that his team were better before Pirlo’s arrival. GR