Commentary

Downsizing works for the Red Bulls

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

It seems like only yesterday that the New York Red Bulls fired Mike Petke, prompting fans to launch a #RedBullOut campaign and buy space on a billboard on I-280 near Red Bull Arena and voice their displeasure over the firing termed "disgraceful" and "shameful" and the general direction of the club owned by Austria-based Red Bull.

MLS: Week 7 Results & Standings, Week 8 Schedule

Direction? Seven weeks into the 2015 MLS season, the Red Bulls are the only MLS team that is still unbeaten. Few would have put money on the Red Bulls still being unbeaten, not with a schedule that included three of the first five games on the road against 2014 playoff teams and not after an offseason they included the exits of star Thierry Henry, who retired, Tim Cahill, who fled to Japan, and defensive linchpin Jamison Olave, who returned to Real Salt Lake. The Red Bulls erased almost $8 million in guaranteed compensation with the departures of Henry and Cahill.

Never has downsizing looked so good.

The Red Bulls management gave Bradley Wright-Phillips, who tied the MLS scoring record with 27 goals, a pay raise and Designated Player status. New York beat out the LA Galaxy to sign Sacha Kljestan via the Allocation rankings when it acquired Brazilian Felipe, who had played for Jesse Marsch when he coached the Impact, and Montreal's top slot in the Allocation rankings for Eric Alexander and young Cameroonian Ambroise Oyongo, who refused to report to Montreal.

The trade is shaping up to be one of the best in the history of MLS. It certainly would have been unimaginable that the Red Bulls could have pulled it off five years ago. (Remember when management did not realize the Gold Cup would be held in the middle of the season and the summer tournament just might impact its roster?)

Of the team that started Friday night against San Jose, just three started in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference playoffs against New England; Luis Robles in goal, Dax McCarty in midfield and Lloyd Sam on the right wing. The Red Bulls are winning because those three, plus BWP, who was suspended for the second leg against the Revs, have put to rest the notion that Henry alone carried the Red Bulls to within one game of MLS Cup 2014. They are all having outstanding seasons.

To be sure, the Red Bulls have followed through on their austerity plan, offering proof that what counts is the pieces that are filled, not the money that is spent on them. Besides Kljestan and Felipe, the only other newcomers in the lineup are Mike Grella and Kemar Lawrence.

Grella, who bounced around six minor-league clubs in England after passing on MLS out of Duke seven years ago, isn't going make anyone forget Henry, but he has already stepped into his spot in the lineup and scored two key goals. Lawrence, only 22, tried out but didn't sign with D.C. United in 2014 and has been starting at left back in place of the injured Roy Miller since signing in the second week of the season from Jamaican club Harbour View.

All wins won't be as easy as Friday's 2-0 victory over the Quakes, whose habit of coughing up the ball cost them dearly. It's hard to believe that the Red Bulls have the bench to sustain themselves when injuries hit. (Sam left Friday's game with a hamstring injury.) But then again, no one figured Red Bulls would be winning with Chris Duvall, Damien Perrinelle and Matt Miazga -- all backups in 2014 -- starting on the backline.

The Red Bulls have a believer, for one, in Marsch, the man who replaced Petke.

"I think it's time to look at this team and say, this team is pretty good," the Red Bulls coach said after Friday's win. "The way this team is playing and the commitment they have for each other, talking about the past is not really worth any of our time. Now it's only time to talk about what this team is becoming and who they are, and what they are showing to each other and to the fans. I said from the beginning that I wanted this team to be a team that the fans could be proud of. The fans should be pretty proud of the way this team is committing and playing. They're aggressive and entertaining and fast and talented so I think it is time to appreciate this team for who they are."

MLS Scoring:
WEEK AVG.
Week 1: 1.60
Week 2: 3.13
Week 3: 1.25
Week 4: 1.90
Week 5: 2.63
Week 6: 2.20
Week 7: 2.60
Season: 2.17

Week 7: *Three goals you must watch

*It was impossible to stop at three this week.

1. OBAFEMI MARTINS vs. Colorado. It will take a lot to keep Oba from winning the Goal of the Year for this effort against the Rapids that begins with a perfectly lofted ball from Andy Rose. Martins changes direction just as he touches the ball and splits Drew Moor and Bobby Burling before beating Clint Irwin with a left-footed shot from 15 yards.

2T. CHRIS ROLFE vs. Houston
2T. SEBASTIAN GIOVINCO vs. FC Dallas
2T. CRISTIAN MAIDANA vs. New England
How do you separate these three free-kick gems? Rolfe's goal is the highlight of D.C. United's 300th regular-season game at RFK Stadium, a shot that Dynamo keeper Tyler Deric gets a fingertip on but can't prevent from going into the top far corner. But you have to admire Giovinco for the ease with which he places the ball over the FC Dallas wall -- and at almost 1 a.m. no less. Maidana wins the distance contest with his 30-yarder for Philly that nicks the New England post before going into the goal.

And we can keep on going ...

Enjoy Federico Higuain's backheel for the Crew against Orlando City, Kei Kamara's lob later in the same game and Fabian Castillo's -- well -- lightning-quick goal (an FC Dallas-record 29 seconds into the game).

What Worked in Week 7 ...

Philadelphia showed once again that it has a lot of problems, not just with its goalkeeping situation, but New England demonstrated why it is still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference with its 2-1 comeback win. What other MLS coach can afford to bring Chris Tierney, Teal Bunbury and Diego Fagundez off the bench like Jay Heaps did on Sunday? Bunbury set up Charlie Davies for the tying goal, and Fagundez fed Bunbury for the winner.

What Didn't Work in Week 7 ...

Two steps forward and one step back. That's the story with expansion club Orlando City, which looked tremendous in its 2-0 win at Portland, then was blown out a week later in Columbus, 3-0. Young Portuguese defender Rafael Ramos' red card came two minutes after Higuain had given the Crew the lead. By the hour mark, the Lions trailed by three goals.

National Team Watch

Strong starts to their MLS seasons have earned a trio of young MLS players who missed U-20 World Cup qualifying spots on the U.S. U-20s for their two-game series in Austria

Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake), Zach Pfeffer (Philadelphia Union) and Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders) are among nine MLS players in the 20-player squad.

Five of the nine players with U-20 eligibility who played in Week 7 were called up for the trip to Austria to face Qatar on Tuesday and Croatia four days later at Red Bull Arena, home of FC Red Bull Salzburg in Wals-Siezenheim, Austria.

The four players not in Tab Ramos' squad were Bradford Jamieson IV, who earned his first MLS start in the LA Galaxy's 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City, Kellyn Acosta of FC Dallas and Orlando City's Tyler Turner. All were part of the qualifying squad. Also eligible is U-18 Sebastian Saucedo, who was red-carded shortly after coming on in Real Salt Lake's match against Vancouver.

U.S. UNDER-23s. Starters: Alashe, Gil, Shelton (vs. Philadelphia, Portland). Subs: *Davis, Dia, Serna. U.S. UNDER-20s. Starters: Allen, Jamieson, Miazga, Pfeffer (vs. New England). Subs: Acosta, Pfeffer (vs. New York City FC), Roldan, Thompson, Turner. U.S. UNDER-18s. Sub: Saucedo.
*Made MLS debut.

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