[MLS PLAYOFFS: DALLAS-NEW YORK] Fatigue and finishing plagued FC Dallas once again as it faltered at home, losing the first wild-card game in MLS playoff history, 2-0, to New York Wednesday at Pizza Hut Park. Some random thoughts in the aftermath of the Red Bulls' 2-0 victory that sends New York into the MLS conference semifinals against top-seeded Los Angeles ...
FALTERING AT THE FINISH. Prior to the game, FCD coach Schellas Hyndman referred to a 1-0 defeat to New York during the regular season that it lost despite an 18-6 edge in shots. “We have to get our shots on the frame,” he said when asked what were the keys to their wild-card rematch.
The lack of a true striker plagued FCD; none of its astounding total of 30 shots lit up the scoreboard. Utility man Jackson started up front and though four of his six shots were on target, they didn’t trouble New York keeper Frank Rost. Despite playing as a second forward in support of Jackson and seeing a good share of the ball, Ricardo Villar didn’t register a single shot.
What FCD needed as much as shots on frame were crisp finishes; instead, none of Rost’s seven saves were difficult. Hyndman used one of his three subs on Maicon Santos, who went up top while Jackson moved to right mid. Santos replaced Marvin Chavez (five shots, none on target) and got two shots; one went wide, and Rost easily smothered the other.
By contrast, the Red Bulls took just 13 shots; FCD keeper Kevin Hartman saved four of them, including a superb right-hand block of a blast from a sharp angle by Thierry Henry and a breakaway stop on the Frenchman in stoppage time, on which Henry scored anyway by tapping in the rebound.
TEPID DAY FOR SHEA. With scouts from Arsenal and other English clubs reportedly in attendance, FCD winger Brea Shea displayed a lot of energy but little edge.
Except for one raking shot/cross from near the corner flag that Rost tipped over the crossbar, Shea’s touches and decisions seemed dull. His crosses were easily repelled as the Red Bulls seemed to have mapped out just how they would travel, and while he lifted a ball over Rost as the keeper came out, it wasn’t going on frame nor toward a teammate when defender Tim Ream hoofed it to safety.
The long months of travel and games with FCD and the national team, which Hyndman cited several weeks ago as reasons for Shea’s dip in production, rubbed away some of the sharpness and bravado that marked many of his performances in 2011. He and left back Jair Benitez saw a lot of the ball, but neither could find clear space behind Red Bulls’ right back Jan Gunnar Solli. When they resorted to crosses, centerbacks Stephen Keel and Ream – and occasionally center mids Rafael Marquez and Teemu Tainio -- were usually in the right positions.
BACKE COMING BACK. Prior to the game, Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe – repeating the decree issued previously by managing director Erik Soler – said regardless of the result he’d be in charge again next year.
It’s impossible to know if Backe, and Soler for that matter, would truly have kept their jobs had the pricey Red Bulls been eliminated at the first stage after squeaking into the playoffs as the 10th overall seed. But Backe’s tactical acumen, rarely praised this season as it was in 2010 even though New York stumbled against San Jose in the playoffs, resurfaced in this encounter.
Outside backs Roy Miller and Solli shut off the space behind them, and central players clogged the middle to win the inevitable crosses and lobs. Backe’s introduction of midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy as a sub paid the ultimate dividend when the Moroccan found just enough space on the right-hand edge of the penalty area to hit a low centering ball that Joel Lindpere poked into the net for the winning goal.
JOEL, AS IN HERO. During a season roiled by controversies on the field and in the locker room, Lindpere resolutely chipped in seven goals and seven assists while starting all 34 regular-season games. He declined a call-up by the Estonian national team to stay with the Red Bulls and gave them some consistency on the left side of midfield as they lurched from triumph to crisis and back again.
Estonia has qualified for the Euro 2012 playoffs, in which it plays Ireland next month. MLS is taking a break from the playoffs during the FIFA dates, which could put Lindpere in a win-win situation. If New York is eliminated, he can represent his country unencumbered; if New York qualifies for MLS Cup, he can still play for Estonia and also vie for the league title when he gets back from international duty.