Thursday, May 24, 2007

Crossroads at Giants Stadium

The New York Red Bulls this week find themselves at a crossroads with an important game against the Chicago Fire in primetime on Thursday evening. Just around the corner in June, tougher competition than those in their first few games this season awaits New York. For all the woes DC has had in 2007, RFK Stadium continues to haunt the Red Bulls with an intimidating home field advantage. Speaking of which, they have to venture to Toronto first to face a team that has recently hit its stride, with the support of a raucous hometown crowd. And then there's Kansas City - twice New York's opposition over fifteen days next month - where Eddie Johnson's potential success this year after a horrible World Cup year in 2006 remains a question mark.

Before the Red Bulls are truly tested at summer's start, however, Chicago comes to town trying to sort out problems of their own. Dominating games and losing them at the same time this season, the Fire could, at any time, decide to take out their frustrations on the road against a team whose marker they have always held in their possession.

Neither team is at full strength, moreso New York than Chicago. Missing Ronald Waterreus, Hunter Freeman and perhaps Claudio Reyna (officially a game-time decision about which the New York faithful is not optimistic) for more than a few games to this point, the Red Bulls have had to change their strategy more than once against earlier opposition. The Fire, meanwhile, will miss the services of Chris Rolfe (ankle sprain) and perhaps Diego Gutierrez (knee contusion), taking some potency off the Chicago attack.

But while New York has the benefit of depth for arguably the first time in team history - even green-as-hell rookie Sal Caccavale scored in New York's 4-0 win over Columbus this past Saturday - the Fire seem to be longing for the end of the Mexican season, and therefore the coming of their Designated Player Cuahtehmoc Blanco to help bring about success in Chicago. After a strong start to the season, the Fire find themselves struggling to figure out what to do with a three-game losing streak upon their arrival in New York.

Clearly, one team and its fans are more excited than their counterparts heading into their primetime clash on national television. The question for the Red Bulls, then, is how best to take on the Fire.

This week, it has been the worst-kept secret that, given the success of last week's lineup, Bruce Arena may very well keep the starting eleven intact against Chicago. That means hometown favorite John Wolyniec will again be paired up front against internationally-renowned Juan Pablo Angel. Though Josmer Altidore is back with the team after sitting out to go to his high school prom and, well, do whatever you imagine happens after a prom between a rising, talented athlete, who appears weekly on television, and his date, he will sit on the bench so that Bruce can take advantage of the momentum Wolyniec owns after scoring the game-winning goal last week.

Which begs the first question:

Q1: At full team strength (no injuries), can John Wolyniec earn a start this season?
Yes - 3
No - 9

Given the talents of Angel, Altidore, and Clint Mathis, the "Staten Island Ronaldo" (certainly not me who invented the nickname) seemed pretty far down the depth chart at the outset of the 2007 season. To most, Wolyniec still is. But some cannot ignore the work ethic the journeyman-turned-New York veteran has exhibited, especially with any team named either the MetroStars or the Red Bulls.

"He played out of his skin [against Columbus]," said panelist Devil500, "He showed that game in game out and he will be fighting for that spot."

The consensus, however, is quite clear. This season, New York's front line may just be too good for a pre-DP era MLS player.

"He can score goals," said Sublicon, "But as has always been said about him, he's a scavenger - a 'right place at the right time' kind of forward - we need someone prolific up top." Angel and Altidore, in the view of the New York faithful, fit that bill far better than Wolyniec.

Still, even some of the naysayers against the "Woly for XI" movement can't resist a kind word for New York's supersub. "No one can question his grit out there," Onionsack said.

As for someone who is likely guaranteed a starting spot in every game this season, Claudio Reyna has missed significant minutes so far this season due to injury. Reyna's critics have talked much of his inability to stay healthy over the years to justify the responsibilities given to him. Certainly, this season is no different, and Chicago may benefit from his potential absence on Thursday. With an expensive Designated Player spot filled by the former Captain America, it may be the right time to ask the next question:

Q2: Is Claudio Reyna still worth DP money?
Yes - 11
No - 1

It is, quite simply, no contest. Red Bull fans have seen this team as a dangerous, synchronized force with Reyna controlling the midfield, and a chaotic, disorderly mess when Reyna sits.

"Compare this to last year," said Irishapple, "When our team looked like a pack of mangy mutts sniffing each other's butts. He has revolutionized our team."

The lone "no" vote in the field, however, takes a larger view.

Said Crusio, "He is a part time player. But being that we have Angel and [Markus] Schopp, I can excuse the move. Alone, without the other two, Reyna would be an unwise pick."

But others see the talented veteran as more than just a field player. Though it would be nice if he played more minutes and produced greater dividends, "I think he'll still be able to teach the young guys something," said FIFARay007.

The question was posed given New York's win over Columbus last weekend, without Reyna's contributions. A thorough, convincing victory attributed to both a bunch of goals as well as a clean sheet by backup keeper Jon Conway, who did not receive a resounding vote of confidence by the Red Bull Meter two weeks ago. So what was the reason for the rather one-sided result against the Crew last Saturday?

Q3: New York's defense, or Columbus' poor offense?
New York - 4
Columbus - 3
Both - 5

Most among the panel were emphatic in their responses, whatever their choices were to this question. No doubt the New York strike force is alive and well, but a defense that allowed a total of seven goals in the three games prior to facing Columbus at home is reason enough to give many Red Bull fans forget the record-setting opposition goalless streak at the start of the season.

Still, the defense is given at least some of the credit.

"In particular, Dema Kovalenko was spectacular on defense, even though he's not a natural defender," said Irishapple, "His daring slide tackles from behind saved the day on several occasions."

And then there's the Crew, who went undefeated AND winless in their first few games, namely because of their inability to find the back of the net. "The Crew's offense isn't even passable by 1996 MLS standards," said Asprilla9, "The only feeling I have for [recent signing] Guillermo Barros Schelotto is sympathy."

Then again, a plurality of the panel couldn't decide which, or decided on both. "I thought the play was pretty even, we just had much better finishing than they did," said j1mbr0wn.

Panelist ag nigrin gets my thanks, though, for being decisive. "If I have to choose one, NY's defense was good."

|

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home