Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Cause for celebration in New York

Crossposted to MLS Online

Either it's very early in the regular season, or the regular season doesn't mean anything at all. Whatever the reason, the most hardened cynics of Major League Soccer and the New York Red Bulls take the team's early success with a grain of salt.

Among the New York faithful, however, there is reason to be optimistic, if not celebratory. A minor misstep in Columbus during opening weekend was quickly brushed aside by a series of wins throughout April that propelled the Red Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference, the top of the entire league, and an impressive ten-point lead over perennial rivals DC United, who occupy the cellar of the conference with expansion Toronto FC after three straight losses to open the season.

In the meantime, good news continues to come in for the team. New York awaits the debut of former European standout Juan Pablo Angel, in the hopes that they have found the potent goalscorer that has been absent in the Meadowlands for so long. He will join playmaker Claudio Reyna, the team's other Designated Player, and a backline, with the support of Ronald Waterreus and Jon Conway in goal, that has yet to allow a goal in its first four games.

In all, it is a good time to be a Red Bull fan. So much so, that this column has assembled twelve of the closest followers to take the temperature of the metropolitan fanbase from time to time. We call them the Red Bull Meter.

We asked them if it was a fluke that New York has done so well so far. And in what will be no surprise to many, the result was pretty one-sided.

Q1: Is the Red Bulls' early success a fluke?
Yes - 1
No - 11

To some, it is a testament to the head coach, Bruce Arena. After the likes of Octavio Zambrano and Mo Johnston brought mediocre results to New York in seasons past, most fans have confidence in the former US national team coach.

"Bruce Arena has assembled a Red Bulls team that is strong in every position," said panelist Irishapple, "Not only do we have a fantastic starting 11, we have depth in every position, so I think the Red Bulls' early success will last."

Asprilla9 calls Arena the "best coach in MLS," responsible for building the deepest team with the best young striker in Josmer Altidore and best right back in Hunter Freeman. "RBNY finally have someone at the helm that can look at player personnel movement with a discerning eye."
Elsewhere in the league, it is easy for Red Bull fans to find enjoyment in the woes of DC United, the defending Supporters' Shield winner and one-time contender for this season's CONCACAF Champions' Cup. A new coach and a lineup including South American players successful in their former clubs have yet to live up to the early season hype, among them the notion of one DC supporter that this team could have been the greatest MLS team...ever.

Q2: Will the Red Bulls win the Atlantic Cup this season?
Yes - 11
No - 1

A lot could change between now and June 10th at RFK Stadium, the first meeting between the Red Bulls and DC this season. Until then, all signs point to New York's first season series win over their rivals since 2003.

The disparity in silverware between the two teams, of course, gives some fans pause in awarding the Cup before the games are played. "DC, while starting out slow, is still a very good club," said crusio, "This won't be easy." Some other good indicators for New York, however, will be positive results against other teams like the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire, two teams that have also played the spoilers to the Red Bulls' prospects.

And while this year could be the year New York reverses their woeful fortunes, there is some debate as to how that success could come about. A new Designated Player waits in the wings to bring goals to a place where so many other prospects have failed. Yet, Angel may prove not to be the most important player among the New York strike force.

Q3: Who will prove to be the better goalscorer this season?
Angel - 4
Altidore - 8


The last question this week proved to be the toughest, given the two goals scored by New York's newest hometown hero. As Angel waits in anticipation for the immigration paperwork to come through, "Jozy" has quickly endeared himself to the team and the fans, who are beginning to lobby current US coach Bob Bradley to give the young prospect a spot on the US team during a busy year that includes the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the South American Copa America.
Given the early goals by Altidore, the league's defenders may find they have to shift their strategies. "Jozy will be on fire but I expect him to get some VIP treatment from defenders and really get the physical treatment," said Devil500.

On the other hand, Angel may find the two-goal lead Altidore already enjoys may be too much to overcome. "We have not seen Angel play an MLS game yet," said Rooney20. Critics would be well to bring up Sergio Galvan Rey, once the "King of Goals" during his time in Colombia, but rendered irrelevant when he was brought Stateside to the MetroStars in 2004. Time will tell if MLS proves to be a different game altogether for the league's newest Designated Player.

Note: Throughout the season, the Red Bull Meter will be asked a series of questions on their opinions of the Red Bulls. In advance, we thank (in no particular order) BigSoccer posters FIFARay007, ag nigrin, sublicon, jevanvoo, crusio, stinky, irishapple21, Asprilla9, Devil500, j1mbr0wn, Onionsack and Rooney20 for their contributions throughout the season.

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