The hours between now and Saturday will move by quite slowly. The 2012 MLS season is upon us, and I find myself bursting at the seams in anticipation. While the Red Bulls finished 2-2-3 in the pre-season, there is a lot to be optimistic about heading into the season. A lot of the questions I asked in the previous article have been answered. While other questions still remain, the Desert Diamond Cup provided us a good look at what the new depth really looks like, and what it will mean to the fortunes of the Red Bulls this season. Here’s what I saw:
He’s a keeper, they both are:
Meara and Vuolo went a long way to showing us all that the net will be well minded this year. Meara is much more of a well positioned shot stopper who makes better decisions than Vuolo, but the latter is a much more athletic keeper who made some brilliant saves. While the Red Bulls have expressed the interest in adding a veteran keeper, the performances of these two showed that the season didn’t hinge on it. The defense in front of them is another story.
The four horseman of the apocalypse:
While Keel had steady performances akin to those at the end of last season, the play of the other backs was less than stellar. Holgersson showed signs of a strong center back that is good in the air, but he is a step slow, maybe even slower than Rafa, and has very little passing ability. The combination of Keel Holgersson becomes problematic because neither one can really pass the ball out of the back which leads to cynical soccer, or as I like to call it, “Osori-occer”. Conde will definitely be an upgrade in this area, but he is still far from full fitness and will not be available for the first few weeks in anything but a limited role. The only other healthy option is Ruthven, and although he showed some talent, he is still quite raw and unlikely to be an upgrade over either Keel or Holgersson. On the outside, Solli had a much better preseason than Miller, but both made numerous mistakes. They became less frequent as the preseason rolled on, but Solli showed that he is still not really a fullback, and will make a mistake or two per game that could be very costly. Miller continued to play his left midfield role from the full back spot, and got caught up field quite a bit. He rarely generates enough offense to excuse his lackadaisical attitude towards defending. From a statistical viewpoint, he completes a lot of his passes, but very few are ever dangerous or into the attacking third, something Tony Tchani was highly criticized for doing. For my money, Conor Lade is a far better option, even this early in his career. Lade linked up very well with his team mates, and had the tireless energy of a player that is really looking to prove himself and contribute. On the other side, Borrajo has shown to be a strong player on the right, and could be more than capable of filling in, but not taking over the job.
Dax/Teemu, Dax/Rafa > Teemu/Rafa:
McCarty showed improvement over his 2011 season, and looked to be settling into the second of a two central midfield pairing with both Teemu Tainio and Rafa Marquez. He transitioned well into the attack, and provided enough bite in to break up plays that came through the middle. This is exactly what you need when you have slower players such as Tainio and Marquez on the field. Pairing Tainio and Marquez together, however, will be disastrous. Each of them distribute the ball very well, but when paired, they leave acres of space that teams have exploited. They also slow down the transition play, forcing much slower buildups to be effective in the final third. Ideally, I’d like to see McCarty and newcomer Victor Palsson paired together as both showed they have a lot of energy and can spread the ball around effectively. Elsewhere in the midfield, Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards have been very steady, but there aren’t a lot of options behind them should they go down. If Miller continues to start, than Lade may be an option here too, but there isn’t any good cover on the right except for the much maligned Medhi Ballouchy, and perhaps even newcomer Jonathan Borrajo or Barklage should he sign.
Henry and Cooper have a ways to go to form the tight partnership that the former shared with Luke Rodgers, but the progress is noticeable. Compared to the game against Pumas where it looked like the two could not share the field, Saturday night saw a dangerous duo that created several, albeit missed chances. Henry has shown to be in fine form, but he missed several open net opportunities Saturday night. Cooper did well to force parried saves from Nick Rimando, but Henry needs to bury those rebounds. If Luke Rodgers does not return, RB’s suffering shall be minimized with Cooper’s goal production. That is without even mentioning Agudelo, who should see his minutes increase from last year even with time off for international competitions. Corey Hetzog also did well to show that he deserves some minutes, as he was quite active in all of his preseason action. The additions of Johnny Artega and Jose Angulo should help push the reserves harder to try and find time.
While there has been a fair bit of pessimism surrounding the team, I would not count myself among this vocal crowd. There have been improvements all around the field, but team chemistry can be bought. How the locker room develops post-Marquez’s antics of 2011 will be key to success this year. Backe has claimed the team is capable of competing across all competitions this year and has added depth to do just that.