Sorry, I'm not yet convinced this Rise of the Red Bulls is the Real Thing.
A 2-0 victory over a depleted, exhausted Galaxy squad Tuesday at Red Bull Arena – which was full and passionate, unlike most recent performances by the team – certainly did move NYRB to within two points of the Eastern Conference lead, which says a lot more about the conference as a whole than this Ramped-up Red Bull Revival. Somehow a mark of 2-0-1 in the last three games has purified the putridity that preceded a Holy Trinity of results.
All of a sudden, the mega-team can do no wrong, setting aside the fact it has set a league record for ties (16) and has needed a recent mini-surge to get back into the playoff slots, which should be a given considering its $15 million payroll and Euro pseudo-savvy. In those categories, at least, New York is clearly No. 1!
With both teams shorn of important players because of international callups and injuries -- thanks to it being rescheduled during the FIFA fixture window, nice planning -- the match didn’t come close to being the super-power showdown promoted by the league and ESPN, but still many outlets hailed NYRB’s triumph as a grand performance. It was hardly that.
For all of the lavish praise heaped upon maligned midfielder-no-longer-a-defender Rafael Marquez, several times in the first half – before the fatigued Galaxy players more or less conked out – he played unpressured passes right to an opponent. None were exploited by a listless attack missing Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, and were thus forgiven. One outlet raved about him actually lowering himself, literally, to win a ball with a slide tackle. What a competitor!
This is not to say NYRB is sans weapons. A team that has compiled a goal difference of plus-seven must be doing something right.
Thierry Henry leads a potent front line, Joel Lindpere heads a capable midfield, and though the back line isn’t great it has jelled somewhat with Marquez’s move to midfield (a classic case of addition by subtraction). Keeper Frank Rost has shaken off a minor injury and shaky start to silence calls for the return of Bouna Coundoul.
Marquez hasn’t been the only disappointment, though he is certainly the biggest one in the wake of a hefty DP salary and sharp criticism directed as teammates. But if he, and they, can leave that furor behind, not much else will matter. For all of them, the mantra is “buckle down and bust tail.” There’s no shortage of talent and experience; Marquez is just one Red Bull imbued with plenty of both.
After the FIFA break, New York has two more games: at Kansas City Oct. 15 and Philadelphia at home on Oct. 20. Playoff intensity should prevail. It can win the conference (possible), or fall out of the picture entirely (unlikely), or wind up somewhere in between (probable). One benefit could be if NYRB falls into a wild-card slot, it might have a week of rest for its knockout game (Oct. 26 or 27); teams playing on the final weekend will have at most a few days.
After SKC and Philly, a lot more will known about whether these Red Bulls are Ready.