[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] The addition of Rafael Marquez has pushed Joel Lindpere from the middle to the left side of midfield, yet his versatility -- and the fluidity of New York’s front six players -- tormented the Los Angeles Galaxy for much of their meeting Friday at Home Depot Center.
Lindpere stung a shot off the goalpost that fell for Dane Richards to score the first Red Bulls’ goal, and he drove up the left flank several more times to hit balls that narrowly missed their targets, yet the typically well-rounded game of Lindpere contributed greatly to an impressive victory.
The Estonian international occasionally pushed higher up the field if New York had possession on the left side of the field to offer an option for left back Roy Miller or left-sided central defender Tim Ream. If Tony Tchani slid into the space vacated by Lindpere, combinations involving those players and possibly Mehdi Ballouchy or Juan Pablo Angel completely confused the Galaxy.
Ballouchy floated from side to side and also toggled between the roles of winger, second forward, and playmaking midfielder. Lindpere occasionally slid into the middle but also spent a lot of time almost on the touchline, or tucked just inside an overlapping run by Miller.
At times Tchani would be square with Rafael Marquez, who spent much of the first half dropped deep to shut off supply to Edson Buddle and Jovan Kirovski, but at other times Marquez played higher up the field than Tchani, with Lindpere holding down the left flank so Richards could fly upfield. If Ballouchy moved to the right to work with Richards, Lindpere would float upfield in support of Angel.
Lindpere stepped into a tackle to take the ball at the midfield line from Kirovski, who while trying to get it back committed a foul. A Lindpere foul drew some appeals for a card from the Galaxy players, who believed the contact was tactical and deliberate.
Early in the game, Lindpere skipped past right back Sean Franklin to drive a shot a yard wide of the post with Richards coming in at the back post a step late. In a similar situation late in the match, he instead surprised Franklin with a quickly clipped ball that bounced past the far post less than a foot beyond Angel’s desperate lunge. Another variation produced a one-two between Lindpere and Miller in close quarters and a ball dropped back for Tchani, whose driven right-footed cross to the far post barely eluded Richards.
Richards scored after Lindpere reacted to Angel’s flick of a throw-in faster than Galaxy defender Leonardo and took the ball to goal. The shot came off the near post and caromed diagonally right into the path of Richards, who tapped in from close range. Occasionally Richards served as catalyst. Just before he scored, he veered inside from the right wing and into a pair of tackles -- one of which injured him -- that produced a loose ball that Lindpere teed up to strike at goal; the resulting block went for a corner.
The Galaxy started the second half attacking Lindpere’s side of the field, and a big gap opened up when he challenged futilely. Landon Donovan and David Beckham used the space to win a corner, and a minute later Lindpere couldn’t stop a Beckham cross that keeper Bouna Coundoul collected with some difficulty at the base of the near post. The Galaxy overloaded that side of the field several times in the second half as Miller and substitute defender Mike Petke scrambled to cover the gaps with Lindpere busy monitoring Beckham.
A subtle touch in the 58th minute demonstrated Lindpere’s sharp game sense. When a Tchani header came his way, he was facing away from the touchline where Ballouchy waited, yet gently guided it right to the ex-Rapids midfielder with a glancing touch off the top of his head. About a minute later, Richards chased down a long ball into right channel and drew a penalty kick that Angel converted for the winning goal.
In the final minutes, as the Galaxy sent substitute Tristan Bowen down the flank, Lindpere covered for Miller by dispossessing the Galaxy attacker one-v-one. Near the end of the match he picked off a lazy square pass in midfield and dribbled at the Galaxy goal to play a ball to Angel, who couldn’t get off a shot.
The solid play of Lindpere isn’t very flashy or spectacular, and other new arrivals, such as RSL striker Alvaro Saborio, will probably get the bulk of votes for Newcomer of the Year. Yet he is a vital cog in the transformation of 2009’s worst team into a legitimate candidate to win MLS Cup.
In a league that is often fast and furious, he plays smart and sharp.