Continuing their up and down season, the Red Bulls were admittedly disappointed with last night’s 2-2 draw at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
A draw draws no positives
Sitting in front of his locker long after the rest of his teammates had scattered, Red Bulls captain Luis Robles didn’t even try to pull any punches. “No, absolutely not,” was the New York netminders reply when asked if his team took this draw as a positive.
After struggling for a moment to convince himself that a tie wasn’t so bad, “at least we got a point, right?” Robles reconsidered.
“So, a midweek game against a West Coast team to get a point is really one of the only positives that we can take away from the game. But yeah, it’s it’s really disappointing. If we’re being honest, it’s disappointing against a team that; they’re okay. A team that traveled a very long way to play midweek and (we) felt like we had an opportunity to get three points tonight.”
With the matches coming hard and fast, although primarily at home, the Red Bulls can’t help but look at last night’s match against a team that Robles described as “okay”, as two points dropped, especially coming on the heels of Sunday’s feel-good win over red hot Atlanta United.
Heightening the Red Bulls disappointment was the home teams utter domination of the first half, a first 45 minutes that rarely saw visiting Vancouver get into New York’s defensive half of the field. While possession can be a misleading stat, New York’s 69.4% to 30.6% advantage would normally result in better than a 1-1 halftime score.
In fact, New York spotted Vancouver a one goal lead with fullback Scott Sutter punishing the Red Bulls on a blistering counterattack in the 29th minute. Sean Nealis was turned inside out by Whitecaps striker Joaquin Ardaiz before he set up Sutter, who finished well from a tight angle.
That vulnerability to the counter would be a problem all night for Chris Armas’ Killer B’s, with the Red Bulls playing a largely reserve side after Sunday’s hard-fought win over Atlanta. Armas was without his first choice center back pairing, Aaron Long, injured, and Tim Parker, red card suspension.
Of the Red Bulls starting 11 versus Vancouver only goalkeeper Luis Robles, midfielder Kaku, Alex Muyl, and recently, center back Amro Tarek, would be considered first 11 on this Red Bulls side, and most of the B’s are learning on the job.
Robles rued that inexperience post-game, calling games like last night “part of the learning process.” Robles continued, “if you look at in the field, Brian White, second-year pro, Omir Fernandez first-year pro, Sean Nealis, his first-year pro, Kyle Duncan second-year pro. I could go through and for the most part, outside of Sean Davis, who came on late, Alex Muyl, Derek (Etienne), there’s not a ton of guys, even Kaku, second year in this league, there’s not a ton of guys who really understand what’s required to get results midweek.”
It was one of those young players, Brian White, who found the net for the Red Bulls equalizer when he flicked on Tarek’s header to beat Zach McMath in the Vancouver goal in the 37th minute.
White was briefly credited with the Red Bulls second goal, but his deflected cross was eventually ruled an own goal, with Andy Rose getting the “credit.”
The Caps picked up their play in the second half but it was the Red Bulls that went ahead through that o.g. But the lead wouldn’t last long. Just six minutes, in fact, with Fredy Montero burying a VAR aided penalty kick in the 61st minute.
The call was for a handball on Sean Nealis, who had a tough night, although Armas had his back. “We say that defenders get judged for their bad plays, right?” Armas began. “So we can put out 20,30, 40, fires tonight. He plays, he does well. Maybe a couple slip. But he’s such a he’s a young player, but he gives a lot. So we’ll always look and try to learn from the (mistakes), that’s why he’s out there. He’s got courage, and he’s growing quickly.”
Armas will have to keep faith with Nealis and his other youngsters, especially with the Gold Cup/COPA America disruptions, with 3/4 of his back four likely traveling, if Long recovers from his injury.
That’s not to say there will not continue to be some growing pains for the young Red Bulls. Here is Robles again, on that topic.
“It really is about the mentality. It really is about how you approach the game and how you’re able to regroup under 72 hours and do it again. And the teams that have done very well and won Supporters Shields for this organization, they figured that out. And that’s part of playing in this league. And if you look at the schedule, it’s not getting any easier, right, because of the scheduling change in the season being done at the beginning of October, you look at the congestion in the summer. And we’re going to have a lot of these. But as I said, those are younger guys, and they’re going to learn and they have very high ceiling. So I am very optimistic with that.”
The Red Bulls next travel for an away match on Saturday against FC Cincinnati.
FanDuel Sportsbook NJ has the Red Bulls as the slightest of favorites at +160. FC Cincinnati are +160. The draw is priced at +240.
MEN of the Match
For his 65th minute winner and first career MLS goal, NYRB rookie Tom Barlow was singled out as Man of the Match.
In truth, several Red Bulls would have been worthy recipients of the honor. Michael Murillo, Amro Tarek, Daniel Royer, and Sean Nealis all merited consideration. Had I been asked I would have given the nod to fullback Kemar Lawrence for his high octane defensive work throughout.
But MoM or not, the candid and ebullient Lawrence was clearly the star of the post-game.
The Jamaican international’s locker is the first inside the door at the home team’s room at Red Bull Arena. With the media packed tightly around Lawrence on Sunday night, egress and access became a problem for his teammates, including injured striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was seen politely making his way through the thicket, balancing a tray of food as he went on his way.
Lawrence came into this matchup with Atlanta hyped to avenge last season’s playoff loss, which he sat out injured. Lawerence played Sunday’s match like a man with a point to prove and his intensity was met by Atlanta’s Hector “Tito” Villalba, with the two battling for 90 minutes and then some, as the Atlanta man attempted to get at Lawrence after the final whistle had blown.
Stationed in front of his locker, Lawrence was practically bursting to say his piece. “I told you I was gonna, right. I told you, I’m gonna win, right? I’m gonna win it for my team. And we went out there we did,” Lawrence began.
And he was just getting started. “I told you, I’ve been carrying around a lot of anger because I got injured last year. And I missed out on the biggest games ever for my team, the Conference Finals. And I just had that feeling. If I was on the field last year, we would have won that game. So I know I had the worst offseason last year knowing I was injured. So getting back from injury and facing these guys, when I’m getting really my full fitness level. It was just amazing. And the only thing on my mind was to repay them for how my team felt. I felt that we did that today.”
Lawrence and Villalba were involved in a late-game incident that led to the post-match fracas when Lawrence stood over the prone Atlanta forward and exulted. Atlanta got a free kick out it, one that could have mattered as Red Bulls clung to a 1-0 lead.
Atlanta took offense at Lawrence’s exuberance, with team captain Michael Parkhurst telling High Press Soccer afterward that, “we were upset with how Lawrence stood over Tito at the end of the game, and, you know, barked at him. I just don’t think there’s a need for that.”
Villaba also expressed similar feelings, but when word was relayed to Lawrence that Atlanta felt that he had been disrespectful, the Jamaican chuckled. “Lack of respect? No, honestly I can tell you what I said, I said, bring your best. I said, come on, bring your best. I see you bring your best against every guy, week in and week out, I want your best. That’s what I said. So if he feels like that’s disrespectful, that’s his fault.”
Exciting match from two emerging rivals
The match itself was a high-energy affair with New York flying out of the traps, perhaps in a bid to wear down Atlanta, who played and won Wednesday night in Vancouver.
Atlanta’s 1-0 win over the Whitecaps was the fifth on the trot for the defending MLS Cup Champions and the club’s fifth shutout in a row.
Atlanta coach Frank de Boer knew his team had missed an opportunity to topple the Red Bulls while playing with a man advantage from the 35th minute when Tim Parker was shown the line for pulling Josef Martinez and “denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.”
“Everybody is very disappointed to get not even a more out of it. And yeah, the time was right for three points,” de Boer noted, adding, “it’s always difficult to win here.”
The United coach didn’t seem to be looking for excuses. Rather, de Boer seemed forthright when asked about possible fatigue. “100%? It’s fatigue, I gave him two days off, because we have to be physically but also mentally, ready for Salt Lake, on Friday. And, you know, I saw the spirit was there, you know, they wanted but maybe the body and the mind, you know, sometimes will not do what you think will want to do.”
The big moments in the match came down to the red card to Parker and the New York goal. New York’s impressive depth, not an easy thing to build in a salary capped MLS, was key The Red Bulls started without USMNT center back Aaron Long and 35 minutes in his partner, Parker, was shown red.
Sean Nealis was introduced and he would be instrumental in the game’s lone goal. Red Bulls coach Chris Armas praised the substitute for his courage to make a play. “Sean Nealis drives with the ball on that play from center back and he makes a really good pass.”
Nealis set up Royer, who hit a brilliant cross that Barlow somehow managed to head back across Brad Guzan’s goal and into the net for what turned out to be the winner.
It was exciting, it was a bit nasty, and it seemed like the beginning of a rivalry sparked by genuine dislike.
De Boer doesn’t seem to mind. “Yeah, but it’s nice, you know, to have that kind of vitality between two teams, you know, because, yeah, that makes the sports. Fun, I think to watch, you know, they’re eager to win against each other, and they will do everything to win it from each other. Of course, there always has to be respect, of course, on both sides. But yeah, this is what you want. This is what you want to experience every week.”
And what does Lawrence think of the rivalry?
“I feel like this is like on the top of the list. I feel like there’s really a rivalry there.”
And how does Lawrence feel about his battles with Villalba? “Every now and then,” a smiling Lawrence began, “you’re going to find one player that you don’t like. You know, a lot of guys around the league like me,” but the New York fullback concluded with a shrug, “I can’t please everyone.”
Or is that BOOOO!!!???
Today’s announcement that the New England Revolution hired Bruce Arena to take over as both coach and Sporting Director of the moribund MLS originals has drawn both responses.
And despite Arena’s impressive resume, that split reaction to his hiring by a team desperate for, well, everything, comes as no surprise.
Bruce Arena: The Good!
So, let’s take a look at that resume. Arena has won more MLS Cup titles (5) than anyone. He captured the first two in MLS history with DC United (1996 and 1997) and three with the L.A. Galaxy (2011, 2012, 2014).
The reason for the gap in titles is that Arena was coaching the USMNT, advancing the U.S. to the quarterfinals in Japan/South Korea, where a handball on the goalline prevented the U.S. from potentially taking mighty Germany to extra time. That result remains the best for the Americans at the World Cup.
Arena leads MLS coaches in Cup titles, Coach of the Year awards (3), Supporters Shields (tied with Sigi Schmid with 3), and is second in wins with 202 to the late Schmid’s 240.
Bruce Arena: The Bad?
So, that accounts for the positive BRUUCE! reaction. But why would anyone BOOOO! hiring the man behind all of those accomplishments?
The obvious answer:
Trinidad and Tobago, October 10, 2016 (aka The Day that Will Live in US Soccer Infamy)
Too much? Ok, let’s put it another way. The night that the heavily favored Americans lost 2-1 to already eliminated Trinidad and Tobago and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
The aftershocks of that loss are still being felt by players like Michael Bradley (often booed every time he touches the ball at away games–especially in Atlanta) and Jozy Altidore, who fans have raked over the coal to point where it seems some may never forgive them for that night in Couva.
As the coach of the team that failed, Arena likewise has earned the enmity of some who simply will not forgive or forget.
Then there is Arena’s attitude. Has he been humbled at all by missing out on the World Cup? On the one hand, the BRUUCE! hand, Arena took responsibility in the aftermath and quickly resigned.
On the other, the BOOOO! hand, there is Arena’s book, “What’s wrong with Us,” (clever). From his book:
“If I had it all to do over again, I’d take the job again in a second, and even though people don’t want to hear it, I don’t think that, given the limited time I had, there is much I would do differently, either.”
And there is some unease about his final days with Los Angeles. Having won MLS Cup in 2014, L.A. finished fifth in 2015, third in 2016 when Arena left late in the MLS season to replace Jurgen Klinsmann on that failed World Cup rescue mission.
Then with Arena gone the wheels fell off for the Galaxy who finished last in the Western Conference. Arena wasn’t there, so was he absolved? Or did Arena deserve criticism for leaving the cupboard bare for his successor?
Had Arena lost interest?
So which is it for you? BRUUCE! Or BOOOO!
Personally, I was all for bringing Arena back to replace Klinsmann at the time. Klinsmann’s inscrutable act had long worn thin by then and it was clear his players were ready for something different. Arena’s plainspoken (if dipped in sarcasm) style, combined with his deep experience in all things CONCACAF seemed just the ticket to get the U.S. to Russia.
That it didn’t work, that Arena couldn’t coax even one more point out of the USMNT against a group that sent Panama (Panama!!!) to the Word Cup is troubling. Did anyone see Panama at the World Cup and not find themselves screaming- we couldn’t beat out those guys?!
But I digress. Is Arena the right choice to lead New England out of the wilderness? Maybe. As Sporting Director he will be his own boss. If Tom Brady is not playing, the owners don’t care. Maybe that’s good. Especially if they give Arena the Kraft family checkbook.
And Arena is surely a huge upgrade over fired General Manager Mike Burns and first-time coach Brad Friedel. At 67, Arena will have to show he has the energy for one last big project. I believe that his ego is bringing him back for one more tilt at the windmill, one final chance to burnish his reputation before he walks away, and that might be the best motivation of all.
So for me, it’s not BRUUCE! But it’s not BOOOO! either.
I guess it’s just Bruce.
Change is good, they said. Squad rotation is important they said. Well, Chris Armas was listening.
Coming off of a deflating 2-1 home loss to the Montreal Impact and facing a quick Wednesday to Saturday turnaround, the New York Red Bulls boss heard the advise and changed out an astonishing 10 members of his starting 11 for Sunday’s match in suburban Dallas.
Armas’ bold play worked a charm as the Red Bulls topped FC Dallas with a 3-1 victory Saturday afternoon at a sparsely populated Toyota Stadium.
Rotated squad rumbles to victory
Aaron Long figured to miss out after picking a hamstring injury of so-far indeterminate severity and Bradley Wright-Phillips has been day-to-day all along, but it was a surprise that Armas also left mainstays Luis Robles, Daniel Royer, and Marc Rzatkowski off the matchday 18 and back in the New York/New Jersey area.
The makeup of the Red Bulls bench was equally surprising, with the likes of Kemar Lawrence, Sean Davis, and Tim Parker cooling their heels alongside the surprise Red Bulls backup keeper Evan Lauro.
Dallas held the statistical edge in most categories against the Red Bulls on the night, but the visitors claimed an 11th minute lead when 19 – year old midfielder Cristian Casseres finished from Andreas Ivan the Red Bulls were on the way to winning the only statistical battle that matters, goals scored vs goals allowed.
That Red Bulls lead stood up for the first 45 minutes but the home team managed an equalizer before the halftime break, when Jesus Ferreira slipped away from Sean Nealis and found himself wide open in the Red Bulls box to head past Ryan Meara, deputizing for Luis Robles in the New York goal.
The goal is the fourth of this break out season for the 18 year old Ferreira, the son of former Dallas star, 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira. The younger Ferreira was widely tipped to earn a spot on the U.S. U20 World Cup side, but the citizenship papers for the Colombian born, Texas raised teenager apparently didn’t beat the FIFA clock.
So Ferreira will stay with FC Dallas while three of his teammates, Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania, and this year’s Cinderella story Edwin Cerrillo all head to Poland where the U.S will kick off on May 24th against Ukraine, followed by Group D matches versus Nigeria, May 27th, and finally Qatar on May 30.
With the match level heading to the final 45, Ferreira’s goal gave the home team a solid platform to press for the win. However, led by Meara, Armas’ band of backups first re-took and then added to the lead.
Michael Murillo, who just a couple of weeks ago would have been a member of the “A” team before some shoddy play saw the Panamanian international banished to the bench, thought he had the go-ahead goal. Replays showed that the ball skipped off of Nealis’ head for the 58th-minute tally.
Meara made that slim lead hold up, earning Man of the Match honors, with his standout moment coming in the 71st minute with spectactular diving save from Zdenek Ondrasek.
Brian White ended Dallas’ comeback hopes when he finished a nice one-two with Omir Fernandez in the 85th minute to ensure Dallas’s first home loss of the season.
For fifth place Dallas this game was a missed opportunity to make up ground on fourth place Houston, who dropped a 1-0 decision to Seattle on Saturday, while the Red Bulls resilience gets them back on track, just two points below the Eastern Conference playoff line.
New York City FC continued its impressive climb up the Eastern Conference table with a comfortable 2-0 road victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy Saturday afternoon in Carson, California.
New York was the better team from the jump, building a well deserved 2-0 lead with goals from Heber in the 44th minute and from a penalty kick from Maxi Moralez six minutes into first-half stoppage time.
NYCFC takes advantage of tired Galaxy
Playing their third game in seven days, the Galaxy looked lethargic, in particular, L.A’s 37-year superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who would finish the match in feisty form after a sluggish first hour or so.
L.A. came into this game looking for a little home cooking on the heels of a disappointing road trip that saw the Galaxy fall 3-2 at the New York Red Bulls and 3-1 at Columbus.
New York, on the other hand, appears to be a side that is finding itself thanks largely to the arrival of striker Hebert and the introduction of a three-back formation featuring James Sands, Alexander Callens, and Maxime Chanot.
With Sands back in the team sheet after missing the City’s 2-0 win last Saturday in Montreal, both elements were in place against the Galaxy in front of an announced attendance of 22,806 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Sands rebounds from U20 disappointment
Sands was playing with the disappointment of being passed over for the United States U20 World Cup team still fresh, as was L.A.’s 17-year-old wingback/fullback Julian Araujo and both players got the start.
High Press Soccer spoke to Sands about his U20 World aspirations following NYCFC’s 1-0 win over Chicago in late April at Yankee Stadium and the mature youngster was straightforward with his reply.
“Yeah, it’s in the back of my mind,” Sands conceded at the time, “but I haven’t really been part of that group.” “I’m trying to make a strong case for it,” Sands said, “but it’s not my decision.”
The man who made the decision, U20 coach Tab Ramos, told reporters in Manhattan on Friday, “I think Julian was a strong consideration, because in theory, when you look at the right back position where (Sergino) Dest is, there’s a possibility that if there’s an injury there, that’s the one position, probably out of the whole field, in which we have the weakest spot.”
As to Sands, Ramos has confidence in the players he selected, leaving Sands out of the picture despite his status as a regular senior player, a rarity among the central defenders on the U.S. U20 World Cup roster.
Moralez makes good after misses
After NYCFC dominated the first half, Heber broke the deadlock when he followed an Anton Tinnerholm blast that had been saved David Bingham in the L.A. net, beating the stationary Galaxy defense in the process.
Tinnerholm was at the heart of things again when his cross was handled in the box to set up a NYCFC penalty. Up stepped Maxi Moralez, despite having missed twice from the spot already this season, but this time Moralez got it right and the goal would be enough to secure a third win on the trot for the Pigeons.
L.A. would eventually get untracked when they began to rely on a simple game plan of pumping crosses into their big striker. Of course, Zlatan being Zlatan, he did get a couple of chances.
First Ibrahimovic was robbed by Callens with NYC goalkeeper Sean Johnson in no man’s land, then in the 80th minute, the Galaxy striker rattled the crossbar.
Things got physical late, with Ibrahimovic lucky to stay on the field when he and Johnson got into a wrestling match in the New York goalmouth.
Each player received a yellow card but some – this writer for instance- would say that Ibrahimovic deserved the harsher penalty for some sort of choking, pinching move on Johnson’s neck.
Johnson was still unhappy with Ibrahimovic after the match, trying to get at him after the final whistle. In true villain style, Zlatan seemed to laugh off Johnson’s outrage but when all cools down Johnson and his teammates will be delighted with the three points while the Galaxy needs to figure out how to get back on track.
Momentum, good vibes. Whatever you want to call it, it can vanish in an instant, or for the New York Red Bulls, in a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact.
Wednesday night the New York Red Bulls hosted the Impact in the final game of a three-day home set. After a disappointing start to the season that saw the 2018 Supporters Shield winners sitting at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, New York’s MLS originals seemed to have righted the ship with consecutive wins versus FC Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Galaxy at Red Bull Arena.
The 1-0 victory over Cincinnati was merely the appetizer for the Bulls main course, a thrilling 3-2 defeat of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic led Galaxy, a win that cast Montreal as the dessert course in what would have been a rather tasty three game redemption dinner.
Montreal ends the momentum
Alas, Montreal put paid to all that with Wednesday night’s comeback win in front of a typically small mid-week RBA crowd. Despite the continued absence of the Red Bulls primary goal scorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips, the home side opened briskly, putting immediate pressure on Evan Bush in the Montreal goal.
With Kaku available after serving his five game suspension for a wild kicked ball that struck a fan, New York coach Chris Armas elected to begin with his sides chief playmaker on the bench.
Afterward, High Press Soccer asked Armas if he had held Kaku out for a lack of match fitness? For Armas it seemed like a case of -if it’s not broke, why fix it?
“You know, he was match fit and training well,” the New York coach began. “He’s been with us all year here and we came out last game feeling pretty good, we felt like the same structure made sense and the players that started match for them to be out there.”
Armas’ theory was looking good with the home team starting well and they got their reward in the 36th minute when Long leaped highest to power home a header from a fine Marc Rzatkowski feed.
The Red Bulls 1-0 halftime lead seemed about right, and it was easy to imagine the home team walking away with the spoils 45 minutes hence.
But to their great credit Montreal, still without their best player Ignacio Piatti, and playing its ninth road game of 12 in 2019, were only too happy to upset the Red Bulls applecart, scoring twice in the second half while blunting the New York attack.
With no Piatti to turn to the Impact mimicked the Red Bulls approach– their big center-back Zakaria Diallo flicking home a header from a Max Urruti cross after Urruti took a pass from a dead ball situation.
Montreal would take the lead on an Urruti penalty conversion that came from a bad giveaway by Connor Lade, who has been one of New York’s best players in recent weeks, good enough to keep 2018 MLS All-Star fullback Michael Murillo glued to the bench of late.
Long ended up committing the foul on Jackson-Hammel to concede the pk, another moment in an event filled night for the big defender.
Urruti took his chance well for his first goal of 2019 and it would be enough to end the Red Bulls mini-streak and break their momentum as RBNY head to Texas for a Saturday date with FC Dallas.
Afterward, Long stood in front of his locker and described his injury as “super tight right now,” saying that he would be going for an MRI the following day (Thursday). The Red Bulls center back looked to be in considerable pain when he was helped off the pitch in the 76th minute and post-game Long admitted that this particular pain was a new feeling.
“No, never felt like that before,” a frustrated Long answered when High Press Soccer inquired. “Hoping it’s not too bad.” The Red Bulls will be hoping the same and while hamstrings can take a while to recover from Long conceded that “Saturday is probably unlikely.”
Having used up all their subs the Red Bulls finished with 10 men and could not find an equalizer. From a Red Bulls perspective it was undoubtedly a hard loss, with team slipping to 10th place in the Eastern Conference ahead of only Cincinnati, who just fired its coach, Alan Koch, and New England, who must surely be considering Brad Friedel’s position after consecutive losses of 5-0 Wednesday night to Chicago and 6-1 on Saturday versus Philadelphia.
NYRB adding some goal-scoring punch from RBII
But let’s end on a positive note. Earlier on Wednesday the Red Bulls announced the signing of forward Tom Barlow from Red Bulls II, the team’s USL representative.
With BWP out and backup Brian White suffering from a “soft tissue injury,” very much the in vogue malady of the moment, Barlow got the start. The 23-year-old was drafted out of Wisconsin prior to last season and he immediately lit up the USL, scoring 10 goals in 11 starts in 2018 and adding six before his call up to the big club this season.
Barlow admitted that despite the loss, that “ Yeah, couldn’t be more happy to make my debut tonight.” High Press Soccer asked if Barlow if he thought he’d scored on a second half effort that was blocked by an Impact defender.
“I hoped,” Barlow laughed. “Oh, yeah,” Barlow went on with a rueful grin. “I was hoping but uh, they might have called it offside, I think. But the goalie made a nice little play. But yeah, we’ve been nice. But unluckily, it didn’t go in.”
It was that kind of night for the Red Bulls who head to Dallas and another chance to get back that fleeting momentum, those elusive good vibes.
- Who: LA Galaxy vs NYCFC
- When: Saturday, May 11th at 4:00pm ET
- Where to Watch: Dignity Health Sports Park and live on ESPN
- Odds: LA Galaxy +105 | Draw +270 | NYCFC +230
On a pleasant Tuesday morning at their bucolic suburban New York training center, New York City FC squeezed in one final practice session before flying cross country to face LA Galaxy and its outsize striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Saturday afternoon.
The mood mirrored the surroundings. With NYCFC riding a string of positive results, no one seemed unduly concerned about the team’s impending clash with the 7W-2L-1D Galaxy.
Which is not to say that New York is downplaying the task ahead of them. In fact, despite facing L.A. for the first time with Ibrahimovic in the fold, New York is better acquainted with the superstar than most MLS teams.
Zlatan a familiar foe for NYCFC
“I have good memories from Barcelona, this player because I worked one year with him (and) it’s my opinion Ibra is one of the best strikers in the last 20 years.”
Both coach Dominic Torrent and fullback/wingback Anton Tinnerholm have professional experience with and against the towering L.A. striker. Torrent, who has spent most of his career as Pep Guardiola’s loyal lieutenant, worked with Ibrahimovic at Barcelona as an assistant coach. While things famously did not work out between Guardiola and Ibrahimovic at Barcelona, Torrent chose to focus on the positives Tuesday afternoon. Said Torrent:
“I have good memories from Barcelona, this player because I worked one year with him (and) it’s my opinion Ibra is one of the best strikers in the last 20 years. For me (he) is amazing. Everybody knows how important this player is in the world, not in just L.A. It is always impossible to mark this player because he has quality feet, he has the quality to attack the spaces, keep the ball and score, assist. Now repeat, I’m very happy to meet again with this player because I have good memories in Barcelona.”
Zlatan will see another familiar face when LA. line up against NYC Saturday afternoon: former Sweden teammate Anton Tinnerholm.
Tinnerholm has just nine international caps, but the New York fullback/wingback recalled on Tuesday that, “I played against him a couple of times and I played with him in the national team, so I know how good he is.”
New York’s 2018 Defender of the Year, Tinnerholm is playing some of the best soccer he has played since coming over to MLS prior to last season, and when he was first asked about facing his countryman, the 28-year-old tried to play it cool.
“I played against a couple of other Swedes in the league but to be honest, I look more forward to get three points,” Tinnerholm said, before opening up just a bit. “But of course, he is the best player ever Sweden had, so of course it’s going to be fun to play against him.”
Sands appears fit for Saturday
New York recently made a much-ballyhooed switch from a back four to a three back/five back (possession dependent) formation. That new look will be put to the test against LA and Ibra.
We will have to wait and see who will be manning those positions, but Torrent appeared optimistic that his 18-year-old mainstay James Sands will return after missing one game with an abductor muscle injury. To these untrained eyes, Sands looked to be moving well while training with the injured/recovering group on Tuesday and Torrent’s comments only reinforced that impression.
“He’s much better,” the coach said of Sands, adding, “Jimmy maybe can play against L.A. Mata (Matarita) is a doubt, and Maxie (Moralez) and Eber, I don’t know in the moment because today they have a medical test. But Jimmy has more possibilities to play.”
Whether Torrent will pit the youngster straight up on Ibra is another question. It may be worth noting that the NYCFC coach said of Sands, “he can play, you know, in the center back and he can play the double six. We have to decide in the last one.”
Is stopping Zlatan the key to stopping Galaxy’s attack?
Watching the Galaxy against the New York Red Bulls last weekend, it became apparent that while “one trick pony” might be harsh, L.A. did seem very reliant on Ibrahimovic for goals, as his nine goals in eight games played would attest.
So, High Press Soccer put the question to his old teammate Tinnerholm, “Stop Ibrahimovic, stop the Galaxy?”
“Yeah, of course, he’s the most important player for LA,” Tinnerholm began. “So we have to handle him in a good way. So that’s the most important. Like I said before, we haven’t had any (team) meetings yet.”
With three days between Tuesday’s practice session and Saturday, NYCFC will surely work on a plan to slow the Galaxy’s Swedish superstar. As Tinnerholm put it, “we’re going to look at some clips and see what we what we can do. But I think it’s up to us. If we keep the ball in the team like we did the last couple of games they’re not going to have the ball as much.”
Tinnerholms words seem logical, “they can’t create as many chances, so we feel we do what we can do the best. Then we’re gonna get a win.”
Don’t look now, but New York City FC is currently 5th in the Eastern Conference and climbing, in spite of a preposterous six (!!!) draws from 15 matches played.
Saturday night’s 2-0 road victory over Montreal Impact places Dome Torrent’s squad just five points behind unlikely Eastern Conference co-table-toppers Philadelphia Union and DC United. Toronto FC (16 points), and Montreal (17 points) are well within sight of the Bronx Light Blues.
NYCFC go without star youngster Sands
Versus Montreal, Torrent had to make just one change from the starting 11 that drew 1-1 last weekend at Yankee Stadium to Orlando. That change was potentially a big one, with ever-present James Sands sitting out his first game of the campaign after the 18-year-old had played almost every minute of the 2019 season for the Pigeons.
The severity of Sand’s abductor injury and his time on the shelf is somewhat unknown, but the youngster will want to get back on the pitch in time to impress upon Tab Ramos that he is fit and ready for selection to the U20 World Cup team.
On Saturday, Torrent turned to reserve central defender Sebastien Ibeagha to fill in for Sands, and the 2017 USL Defender of the Year rewarded the coach with a solid performance alongside Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot in New York’s increasingly preferred three back.
Torrent happy with rising squad
Torrent was pleased with the win, saying in post-game remarks released by the team, “it was a fantastic game for us because it is not easy to play here. They defended really well the last three or four games. But I’m very happy because I remember last year how many problems we had and right now the feeling is much better.”
The coach attributes a good deal of the credit for the team’s “good feeling” to their new formation. “My feeling is they are happy to play in this system, 3-4-3. Sometimes soccer is about the feeling and the feeling is much better.”
The good vibes might have started sooner for the visitors on Saturday evening had Maxi Moralez managed to keep his feet on a very early chance that slipped away when the New York attacker lost his footing on a Saputo Stadium pitch that rivaled the notorious turf at NYCFC’s Yankee Stadium home.
But Moralez and NYC did not sulk, instead, storming back to open the scoring in the game’s sixth minute with Moralez latching onto a rebounded Ben Sweat shot, with Sweat having been sent in on Evan Bush’s goal by fellow wingback Anton Tinnerholm.
NYCFC went to the locker room with that 1-0 lead and having scored early in the first half, New York did the same to open the second stanza with a blast from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the 49th minute.
Tajouri-Shradi nearly tore the net off with his blast after tenacious work from Tinnerholm, who continues to impresses on both sides of the ball for NYC, although the assist went to Moralez.
New York continued to press for more and might well have added to their two-goal total in a one-sided second half.
Saturday night’s victory in the first game of a four-game road swing and the win makes it three wins and three draws for 12 points from a possible total of 18 in the past six matches for New York, a solid recovery following a worrying start for Torrent’s troops.
NYCFC have difficult upcoming slate
With LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire, and Columbus Crew next on the team’s travel itinerary, New York will be pleased with their form as they prepare to face Zlatan and company at the Dignity Health Sports Park.
When NYC arrive at Dignity Health Park they will find a Galaxy squad looking to bounce back from a loss to NYC’s neighbors, having fallen 3-2 to the Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey on Saturday afternoon. That loss has the Galaxy looking up at their “noisy neighbors,” LAFC, the second-year club that leads the MLS originals by two points in both the Western Conference and Supporters Shield races
The Galaxy, of course, is not just Zlatan and a bunch of nobodies. New coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto has paired Mexican international Jonathan Dos Santos and former(?) USMNT man Joe Corona to form a very solid defensive midfield that provides both a solid defensive base for L.A. and a springboard to link with what is admittedly a Zlatan dominated attack.
NYCFC will need to neutralize Ibrahimovic and New York’s forwards would be wise to learn from the mistakes the New York Red Bulls made against the Galaxy and step up on center back Diego Polenta, who picked the Red Bulls apart with long-range passes when left unattended at Red Bull Arena.
Zlatan Ibrahimović came to town Saturday night and delivered a possible “tarp-out” to Red Bull Arena as the home team edged the Galaxy in a 3-2 thriller.
The match was played in front of the team’s largest crowd of the season, which saw the Red Bulls overcome a goal and an assist from Zlatan.
Whether the 20,128 attendance constitutes a reduced capacity sellout, or “tarp-out,” is difficult to say, given that we don’t know precisely how many of the arena’s 25,000 seats have been buried under the bright red tarpaulins that have recently sprouted across the upper deck at either end of the team’s Harrison, New Jersey stadium.
Whatever the exact percentage of seats filled was, and there appeared to many an unoccupied seat, the 20,128 announced attendance and the TV viewers at home were treated to an exciting match. Yes, a fair amount of those fans were on hand to cheer for the Galaxy’s flamboyant striker. Regardless, the home town fans had to be thrilled with the Red Bulls second consecutive home win.
Red Bulls fast start helps stifle hot Galaxy squad
The Red Bulls came flying out of the gate, dominating the early exchanges with an L.A. Galaxy side that entered the day with an impressive 7-1-1 record. The Red Bulls have been struggling, and with striker Bradley Wright-Phillips missing a second consecutive match with a soft tissue injury, the question of Red Bulls goals and where they might come from was an open one.
If you had Amro Tarek, Marc Rzatkowski, and Derrick Etienne, first time 2019 goal scorers all, for the Red Bulls goals then you probably had Country House winning the Kentucky Derby.
The Red Bulls were pressuring David Bingham’s goal from the start with Rzatkowski and Daniel Royer looking extremely likely in the opening minutes. The home team was rewarded when center-back Tarek blasted home in the 15th minute, a good goal from a surprising source.
L.A. center-back Diego Polenta saw Tarek’s goal and decided to show off his passing skills, twice sending delicate long balls over the Red Bulls defense to earn secondary assists with first-rate passes.
The first of Polenta’s elegantly struck chips landed at the feet of Ibrahimovic with the big man setting up Uriel Antuna perfectly for the 39th-minute equalizer. Just four minutes later a wide open Polenta sauntered into the New York half and then picked out Chris Pontius. The veteran attacker immediately fed Ibrahimovic for a diving header to give the visitors the lead just ahead of the halftime whistle.
It was a bit of a shock for New York but a pair of second-half goals from a couple of more unlikely sources wrested the points from the visitors and the victory to the home team. Etienne’s winner was subject to a VAR delay but the officials ruled that Brian White did not interfere with Bingham in the Galaxy goal.
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s Montreal Impact Match-Up
This second consecutive home win sets New York up nicely for Wednesday night’s showdown with Montreal Impact — the Red Bulls will look to close out a three-match homestand with a perfect 3-0-0 record.
The Impact sits in third place in the East with 17 points, six more than eight place New York. If Montreal talisman Ignacio Piatti remains sidelined, that can only help the Red Bulls chances of completing the home sweep.
Oddsmakers view the Red Bulls as heavy favorites, pricing them at -135 over at FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|NY Red Bulls -135||Draw +280||Montreal Impact +360|
Without looking past Montreal, the Red Bulls will surely be aware that following Saturday’s May 11th visit to Dallas FC, they return home for a pair of matches versus Atlanta United and Vancouver, making for five home games out of six, a stretch that could see the Red Bulls catapult themselves right into the heart of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Playing their third game in seven days, NYCFC conceded a first-half goal to Nani, Orlando City’s red hot DP, but still had enough left in the tank to rally for a 1-1 draw on Heber’s 51st-minute strike.
With the home team dominating the early proceedings, Nani capitalized on a weak clearance to net a 19th minute goal. The score ended NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson’s shutout streak at 256 minutes, and marked Nani’s fifth consecutive match with a goal. Cristiano Ronaldo’s ex-running mate celebrated five straight games with goals with backflips.
Heber finds an equalizer
Heber is New York’s less well-known version of Nani- and by less well know, I mean completely unknown. A Brazilian striker, Heber landed in the Bronx from HNK Rijeka in the Croatian First Football League and has been gradually worked into the lineup by Dome Torrent, who indicated pre-game that his new DP would be unlikely to go the full 90 versus Orlando.
But on a pleasant but not overly warm Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, the Brazilian looked spry, no more so than when he pounced on a rebound from a Maxi Morales shot that was saved off of the post by Orlando keeper Brian Rowe after a nice one-two with James Sands set up by Morales.
NYC coach Dome Torrent said of Heber:
“I think with Heber we have the right player, right now.”
Torrent was not interested in talking about why it took so long the get the Brazilian in the fold, although he did mention the restrictive MLS rules, salary cap, etc. No, Torrent preferred to let it be known that “right now I’m very happy with Heber, with Mitty (Mitrita), with the new players.”
And why not? Despite the end of the winning streak, New York is undefeated in five consecutive games and as fullback Ben Sweat put it, “there was a slow start for sure but at the end of the day we’ve only lost one match.”
Sweat, playing for the injured Ronald Matarrita, who has recently gotten the leg up on Sweat in the pair’s ongoing battle to be NYCFC’s first choice left fullback, likes where the team is heading. “I think we’re starting to find a good rhythm and, you know, a good system, and we’re playing good football, and we’re all working hard for each other.”
New York began the season in desperate need of a goal scoring striker to fill, at least partially, the enormous hole left in the lineup by the off-season departure to Japan of the club’s first and best player David Villa.
Alexandru Mitrita signed on shortly before Heber but the Romanian was, as advertised, more of a winger than the number nine that NYCFC was desperately lacking. Knowing his importance to the team Heber was anxious to go as long as he was able versus Orlando, despite Torrent’s pre-game declaration.
Gamely fielding post-game questions in English, Hebert told the assembled media, “I feel very good,” noting of Torrent, “during the game he asked me many times how I was and (I said) I’m very good.” “In this type of the game,” the newcomer added, “all players want to play and I cannot go out (of the game) and I want to be on the pitch to help my teammates.”
Either team could have won this game as easily as lost it, and both sides can point to opportunities squandered and bad fortune in what was at times a very sloppy match. New York’s Alexander Callens was saved by a linesman’s flag when he fell over to allow a brutal Orlando goal that would have made the score 2-0.
New York’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi watched his long-range effort roll slowly past an empty Orlando goal while Orlando sub-Dom Dwyer had the miss of the match when he somehow headed wide from a virtually unmissable position after a great run and cross from the aforementioned Ruan.
Given all of that, neither coach had too many complaints as reflected in their postgame remarks. Orlando supremo James O’Connor, who has his team in a playoff position after a tough 2018, noted that “obviously a very hard-fought game for both teams,” adding, “a draw is probably a fair result.”
For Torrent, whose team sits one spot behind Orlando in seventh place, the result, “is not bad for us because three games in seven days. I was concerned about the heavy legs,” who was pleased with how his players responded to the workload.
How pleased? “The players,” Torrent said, “therefore were amazing.”
The New York Red Bulls welcomed expansion side FC Cincinnati into Red Bull Arena Saturday night with one objective in mind and one objective only: to collect three points.
NYRB accomplished that goal thanks to a brilliant long-range strike by Mr. Red Bull himself, Connor Lade.
Lade leads new line-up
Often overlooked but always ready to do whatever it takes for the team, Lade started Saturday night at left wingback with Red Bulls boss Chris Armas looking to shake up his moribund team.
Armas ran his side out versus the MLS newcomers in a three-back set with Amro Tarek slotting in alongside fellow center-backs Aaron Long and Tim Parker with Lade and Alex Muyl manning the wingback roles.
Armas wanted to see his team break down a Cincinnati side that he expected to come out “in two banks of four” and thought “with our wingbacks, we could unlock it.” Armas noted that Red Bulls sent in a “bunch of crosses which they defended well.”
With his team coming into the match struggling with a record of 1 win, 4 losses, and 2 ties, Armas was looking for “little ways to spark the team, get them excited for a different formation.”
“So, we’d say it worked,” was Armas’ read. “1-0 for a shutout and a really important win.”
Afterward, Lade found himself in the unaccustomed position of being the center of attention, although the popular 29-year-old was quick to deflect back to the team. “Personally, I would say it’s nice to get the goal but I think that’s secondary on the night.”
“Obviously,” the modest Lade continued, “it’s a huge win for the team. We needed that in the worst way and obviously to get a shutout at home I feel like that’s what we are going to take away from tonight.”
With Bradley Wright-Phillips, the team’s all-time leading goal scorer, missing out with a muscle strain, Lade’s moment of magic was badly needed by a Red Bulls team that has struggled to find the net in 2019.
Lade’s 38th-minute goal was a brilliant effort with BWP’s replacement Brian White heading down smartly to Daniel Royer at the top of the Cincinnati box. Royer’s clever backheel was intelligently ignored by Marc Rzatkowski who left the ball for the onrushing Wade to strike past Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton with a powerful and accurate first time left-footed strike.
The goal was only the second regular-season goal of Lade’s career and although it was a great goal and a thrilling moment for the Red Bulls High Press Soccer wondered if Armas was becoming concerned with just how hard a time his team is having scoring goals, even with BWP in the lineup?
Armas asserted that Lade’s position change to wingback from his usual fullback position put Long in a more attacking position, “so it wasn’t so unexpected.”
Armas did concede that “we want to create more chances and we work hard at that every day.” “There is a lot that goes into creating and scoring goals,” Armas noted, adding that he’s “not concerned because we created chances tonight and our team has always scored goals.”
Sure, just not so much lately. In last year’s Supporters Shield winning season the Red Bulls scored the second most goals in the East, with 62. Atlanta racked up 70 and three teams in the wild west outpaced the Red Bulls, although the well balanced New York side was number one in goal difference.
This season has been a different story, no surprise given the teams place in the standings. And while it is still relatively early the ninth-place Red Bulls have been outscored by seven of their Eastern Conference foes and all but one Western team, Vancouver. Even the winless Colorado Rapids have outscored the Red Bulls, scoring 12 times this season while the Bulls have rung the bell just nine times.
Saturday night’s three points are big but only if they serve to jumpstart a Red Bulls revival and with attendance already hurting some wins, and maybe some goals could only help.
Thank you @NewYorkRedBulls! Great win! – Cant believe more people dont fill this World Class stadium every week to watch a team that is always giving everything!👍 I grew up just blocks from @RedBullArena and would have done anything to attend a game at such an amazing facility. pic.twitter.com/vOngmqNU5F— Tab Ramos (@RamosTab) April 28, 2019
“I think he’s been our best player over the past few games.”
That was New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson evaluating his 18 year-old teammate James Sands Wednesday night in front of his Yankee Stadium locker.
NYCFC had just shut out the Chicago Fire 1-0 in a game that saw Sands shift positions in the second half from the center of a three back to his old and more familiar position in front of that backline.
At his post-game press conference, High Press Soccer asked Dome Torrent about his decision to deploy Sands at the heart of his defense. “We had problems,” Torrent explained, “and I say many times, James has this great quality, he can play center back, he can play holding midfielder.”
Torrent noted that he moved Sands up the pitch, “in the last 20 minutes because we had many balls between the lines (and) he can walk in as a holding midfielder.”
Confidence soaring in Sands
The level of confidence that his NYC coach has shown in his 18 year-old Homegrown talent, both versus the Fire and in general in 2019, is somewhat astounding when we consider that the Rye, New York native played just 223 minutes last year, having made just a 23 minute cameo in 2017.
When Sands started New York’s first match of the campaign, a 2-2 draw in Orlando, it was easy to presume that Sands was a placeholder for Keaton Parks, a 21 year-old American midfielder who came in on a high profile loan from Portugueses giants Benfica having already earned one full national team cap.
19 year-old Juan Pablo Torres had also arrived from Europe in the off season on a transfer from Belgian side Lokern and he had been a major contributor to the U.S. U20 side that won the 2018 CONCACAF Championship on the way to the age group World Cup. Torres tallied four goals and three assists for Tab Ramos’ group, a group that did not include Sands.
Eight games in Torres has yet to make his MLS debut and Torrent has seen fit to play Parks a total of 14 minutes to date.
Sands opened the season alongside captain Alex Ring in a defensive midfield role, often dropping back between the center-backs Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens. Torrent must have liked what he saw because he eventually formalized the situation, lining Sands up in the center of a three back set in Minnesota.
With Callens out, Torrent turned to Tony Rocha. It didn’t work out but NYC emerged with a point in a 3-3 match. Sands fared well in the goalfest and the system improved considerably when Callens came back from injury in a 2-0 victory at DC United.
“He basically did it all for us,” Johnson said, describing Sands’ position switch versus Chicago. But what the former Fire keeper admires most about his young teammate is his attitude. “I think the best part about him is his humility, his willingness to just put his head down every single day and continue to look to get better. You know, he’s not a loud kid but he’s got this quiet confidence about him.”
That quiet confidence was in evidence in the post-game locker room when High Press wondered if it was difficult to make that change mid-game. “Not really,” Sands began, “because I started the first four or five games at the six. So I’m used to playing both at this level.” Did Torrent send any instructions from the sideline?
“He just tells us to switch the formation, and I know the sets coming in.” It doesn’t hurt, I proposed, having a pair of veterans such as Chanot and Callens on his flanks.
“Yeah, for sure,” Sands agrees. “They’re always talking to me and helping me out and they’re helping me with everything and I’m learning to try and help them better.”
Although Sands was a regular at center back for the U.S. in the 2017 U17 World Cup side that fell to eventual champions, England, the NYC man has not been a part of the U20 team that is preparing for the U20 World Cup that begins in late May in Poland.
With injuries and inactivity a concern for a number of potential central defenders Sands would seem too good to pass up, especially given his strong play in a position of need for Tab Ramos’ team.
2022 World Cup in Sands’ vision
Naturally enough, High Press Soccer asked if the World Cup is a goal. “Yeah, it’s in the back of my mind,” Sands conceded, “but I haven’t really been part of that group.” “I’m trying to make a strong case for it,” Sands said, “but it’s not my decision.”
The quiet confidence and humility that his goalkeeper noted came through as Sands closed by saying, “I’ll just put my head down and work, I mean, I can just do as best as I can here and hopefully somebody notices.”
Some weeks back I referred to the MLS standings as a Seinfeld-esque Bizarro World where up is down and down is up. A quick look at the tables show that characterization holding steady, with last season’s MLS Cup Champions Atlanta United and Supporters Shield-winning New York Red Bulls sharing last place in the Eastern Conference table.
Given the high expectations from the 2018 season, it was hardly surprising when the coaches of the two strugglers became the subject of dismissal rumors, with the cacophony around Red Bulls boss Chris Armas amplified by the identity of his alleged replacement, legendary former Red Bulls and Arsenal star Thierry Henry.
With English site Sky News reporting that Henry was in negotiations to take the helm in Harrison, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Armas. It didn’t help when the Red Bulls dropped a stultifying 1-0 decision to the New England Revolution Saturday night in Foxborough.
Come Monday Armas’ boss, Denis Hamlett, released the briefest of statements:
“Recent reports of Thierry Henry joining the New York Red Bulls are false.”
Evidently a follower of the maxim, generally attributed to Mark Twain, that says, “I wrote a long letter because I didn’t have time to write a short one,” New York’s Sporting Director left out any encouraging words for coach Armas to cling to.
Armas puts rumors “officially to bed”
With that backdrop, High Press Soccer traveled out to the Red Bulls Training Facility in Whippany, New Jersey on a perfect Tuesday morning and asked Armas if he had been disturbed by the speculation surrounding his future employment.
Not surprisingly, Armas denied any concern, telling High Press and the two other journalists gathered in a mini-scrum on the edge of one of Red Bulls practice fields, “officially that was put to bed yesterday.”
“From day one,” the former USMNT d-mid continued, “the inside is what we really care about here. And from day one, I was made known that things were just rumors.”
“So imagine now on the outside what’s talked about and imagine the comfort on the inside here,” Armas explained, “which allowed us to show up every day and continue to give everything every day.”
How quickly did Hamlet privately quash the Henry rumors? “As soon as it came out,” Armas responded. “We, the team, was aware of that. I was aware of that, the staff on the inside, again, where things mattered, that was taken care of.”
Armas added that impressions outside of the group didn’t concern him. “No, not at all. I mean in this business – I’ve been around a long time. I mean, we’re always subject to criticism.”
“When I was a player,” Armas continued, “it was the same. You know, so many people (saying) Chris Armas, stinks, why is he on the national team? – (he) shouldn’t be starting, you know, why isn’t he an all-star?”
Flashing a hint of defiance tempered by an understanding of the realities of his chosen profession, Armas went on. “And then you achieve everything and then maybe they quiet down.”
“But in this business, especially when we’re not winning, we’re subject to that. Which is, which is fair game for the folks on the outside.”
But Armas is no longer a player, with the ability to change minds with his performance on the pitch. Nor is he an assistant, allowed to quietly do his work on the anonymity of the training ground. Surely it is different to face the slings and arrows of a disgruntled fanbase as the frontman, as the face of the franchise?
Intentionally or not, Armas channeled the Derek Jeter, Joe Torre Yankee dynasty of the late ’90s and early aughts with his answer.
“Yeah, listen, you know, I remind myself, and I think people who know me know that I don’t really get too high. I mean, on the inside, I love winning. I love success. It’s what I’ve experienced in my career, but I’ve had downs as well, with losses and injuries, and I’ve never gotten too low, at least not for too long.”
Don’t get too high- never get too low. It’s not a bad way to approach a job that invites the type of scrutiny a head coach can endure in the New York marketplace, even if the spotlight doesn’t shine with quite the same intensity on Armas as it does on some of his local coaching brethren.
It’s there though. “So yeah, it’s a, it’s interesting, because last year, you know, it’s this isn’t my first go around, right? I took over the team last year, you’d say it was a really difficult half a season to deal with.”
“And,” Armas noted, “we came out of that looking pretty good. I mean, not much was talked about our team, or me in general, and again, don’t need that. But again, didn’t get too high. And now I’m certainly, I’m certainly not going to get too low.”
Armas paints a picture of a coach and a team that puts its faith in hard work, not rumors.
“What we do is show up every day, where we love the training session today, the energies, right, we believe so much in what we’re doing, we just gotta, we gotta get some results. We know that. And we’re pushing hard.”
With coach Dome Torrent admittedly “in trouble,” NYCFC put together by far its best performance of the season to claim their first win of 2019, defeating first place DC United 2-0 at Audi Field.
With Torrent having recorded just four wins in 22 matches since replacing Patrick Vieira last season, City Football Group bigwig Brian Marwood has been spending time around the club. Torrent struck a realistic note when he told NYCFC radio colorman Glenn Crooks that, “Right now I am in trouble as a head coach – I know and I have to accept that.”
Traveling to the DC to face the top team in the division did not necessarily seem like the best get well plan for NYC, then again in recent weeks United have played like a team missing the old homestead RFK Stadium, losing two and drawing one at Audi Field.
First time attacking trio clicks for Torrent
Good things came in threes on Easter Sunday for New York with the back three working a charm while Torrent had recent signings Alexandru Mitrita and Héber both available to team with playmaker Maxi Moralez from the start for the first time.
The trio was a hit as Heber set up Mitrita for the opener in the 35th minute, and then closed out the scoring in the 56th minute with Ronald Matarrita providing the key pass.
Torrent learning from past missteps
Torrent learned from last week’s disastrous rollout of the three back, which fell on its face when the coach used Tony Rocha on the right side (regular Alexander Callens was unavailable). Torrent could have filled the spot with another player or held off on the formation.
On Saturday, with 18 year-old midfielder/defender James Sands flanked by a pair of dependable veterans in Callens and Maxime Chanot New York’s defense was solid, aided in no small part by fine defensive work from defensive midfield pair Alex Ring and Ebenezer Ofori, whose presence allowed wingbacks Anton Tinnerholm and Mattarita the freedom to bomb forward.
Combined with a smothering press from NYC’s frontment, Ben Olsen’s side had no answers. DC’s star duo Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta were quiet, although Rooney was dangerous from dead balls.
For his part, Acosta provided an occasional bit of magic, in particular an inch perfect cross to Rooney that Johnson tipped over the crossbar in the 21st minute on a chance that the former Manchester United man should have put away.
Otherwise, Acosta looked to be what the English tabloids like to call “unsettled” by a transfer saga that began in January when the 24 year-old Argentinian flew to Paris to sign with PSG only to see the deal collapse.
On Sunday, ESPN’s broadcast crew reported that scouts from Manchester United and Lyon were on hand at Audi Field, clipboards in hand, and that PSG may retain interest. Acosta might be feeling the pressure of that scrutiny. Similarly, DC United homegrown and U.S. Youth international Chris Durkin has been drawing interest from overseas for sometime now and, again per ESPN, Bayern Munich was said to be in DC for a close up look at the 19 year old.
Neither DC man impressed in Sunday’s audition, although one game will hardly make up any minds. On the other hand, perennially overlooked 18 year-old Sands was the picture of composure at the heart of the NYCFC defense – might Sands have turned some European heads?
Johnson came up with a huge kick save to spoil a DC chance from a tantalizing Rooney free kick in the 37th minute, part of solid bounceback from the veteran keeper in the wake of last week’s unforgettable howler in Minnesota.
Potential favorable stretch ahead?
Sunday’s win improves Torrent to five wins in 23 matches, but while we don’t want to get carried away with Easter and resurrection themes, NYCFC did impress versus DC on Sunday afternoon. There appears to be something to build on from back-to-front, although we will keep an eye on Mittrita, who left just after halftime with an ankle knock.
Following Sunday’s comprehensive victory, New York heads into a favorable niche in the schedule with consecutive home games Wednesday and Saturday versus Chicago and Orlando before kicking off a four road trip on May 4th in Montreal.
Two home wins and three game winning streak would be a nice way to prepare for life on the road, but Torrent and his team won’t get ahead of themselves, not after having waited through all of March and a long stretch of April for yesterday’s first victory of 2019.
A week that began for the New York Red Bulls with rumors that Thierry Henry would soon be pushing Chris Armas out as the team’s coach ended with a fifth consecutive match without a win, as the 2018 Supporters Shield winners fell 1-0 to a New England Revolution side that is no one’s idea of a contender.
Rumors and uncertainty swirl for NYRB
Last week, Sky Sports reported that Herny, the former Arsenal and New York Red Bulls superstar, was in negotiations with Red Bull for a job someplace within the sprawling organization, and that his most likely landing spot was in Armas’ place on the corporate depth chart. While unconfirmed, those rumors hover over NYRB during this unexpected run of poor form.
Still, the Red Bulls players might have been expected to back their coach by putting on a performance that said to management – “ we’ve got this.” Instead, this looked like a team that missed its creative fulcrum, Kaku, who missed this match on a red card suspension stemming from last week’s incident when he fired a shot into the stands, striking a fan.
The Red Bulls will likely have to do without Kaku for an extended period once the league’s disciplinary committee hands down its punishment in the coming week.
As for Armas’ job security, seven games does not a season make but with attendance problems becoming an issue at the scaled down Red Bull Arena, it is worth considering when “it’s still early” becomes it is “it’s too late,” for the Red Bulls. They now find themselves in last place tie on points with Atlanta United and NYCFC in the conference with a record of one win, four losses, and two draws.
A wasted chance for momentum
Saturday night in New England seemed like an ideal time and place for the struggling Red Bulls to steal a road win, particularly against a Revolution side with problems of its own.
Brad Friedel’s side came into Saturday’s match at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, having lost three on the trot, while conceding 12 goals and scoring just five for a dismal -7 goal differential on the season.
Friedel coached New England to an eight place finish last year in his first season behind the Revs bench, finishing nine points off of the final playoff position in the East. The USMNT icon has had troubles of his own in 2019. It remains to be seen if Friedel made the right call in late March when he threw his players, indeed the league’s players, under the bus by saying:
“The mentality of a player in this league, a lot of players, when they lose, it doesn’t hurt enough. There’s not relegation, they don’t get fined, they don’t have fans waiting by their cars, they don’t have people beating them up. They don’t have the pressure they have in other leagues.”
With a long playing career in the English Premier League behind him, Friedel’s remarks hold weight. However, coming from a second year coach with a thin resume, Friedel’s comments can be taken as a cop out from a coach having trouble motivating his players.
With that backdrop, neither side was likely to be overly concerned with anything other than emerging with as many points as possible on what was a dismal night in Foxborough. The home side claimed all three available points on a 73rd minute strike from substitute forward Cristian Penilla.
Sent in on goal by fellow sub Juan Fernando Caicedo, Penilla’s angled shot traveled under the gloves and through the legs of Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles, a rare miscue for the Red Bulls captain.
Despite a five to two advantage in shots on goal, the Red Bulls really only had two legitimate scoring opportunities on the night. The first came on a fine bit of trickery from midfielder Marc Rzatkowski in the 39th minute. Rzatkowski deftly controlled a cross from Vincent Bezecourt, showing off his juggling prowess before powering a left footed shot that Cody Cropper did well to save.
Bradley Wright-Phillips had a chance to end his scoring drought in the 50th minute, but with Cropper off his line and out of the play, BWP’s shot was blocked by Revs defender Michael Mancienne.
New England faces a quick turnaround with a home game on Wednesday against the Montreal Impact, who are coming off of a 3-0 shellacking at Philadelphia. NYRB take on FC Cincinnati at Red Bull Arena next Saturday, the first fixture of a three game home stand that may have a lot to say about the remainder of the Red Bulls season.
It will also be interesting to see how oddsmakers now view the Red Bulls. Cincinnati is coming off an embarrassing 0-3 home loss to Real Salt Lake. With two wins though, Cincinnati sit ahead of NYRB in the table. Will FanDuel Sportsbook NJ install New York as a favorite despite the struggles? Look for the MLS Odds later this week.
On a busy Thursday night, Major League Soccer paired the news that the league would expand to 30 teams in the not too distant future with word that for the first time in its 23-year history the league will be collecting and paying Training Compensation and Solidarity Payments, a move the league sees as a boon to youth development in the United States.
Citing FIFA rules in a league statement, MLS declared that it will claim training compensation for any MLS academy produced player that signs his first professional contract with a non-MLS club outside the USA and Canada.
According to the MLS release:
“FIFA regulations only dictate that professional clubs pay training compensation when a player signs his first professional contract in a country other than the one in which he was trained. Since FIFA regulations don’t mandate domestic payments, MLS clubs will not seek training compensation for players who sign their first professional contract with non-MLS teams in the U.S. or Canada.”
That last assertion is backed by website Law in Sport, which states, “It (FIFA Laws) does not address the domestic rules that may apply to the movement of young players between clubs belonging to the same national association.”
As to solidarity payments, MLS announced that it will seek those payments “when players developed in MLS club academies are transferred, for a fee, between two clubs belonging to different international federations.”
MLS Players Association not on board
One group not too keen on MLS’ embrace of the two initiatives is the MLS Players Association (MLSPA) who have long opposed the payments as a tax on its members, a tax that the Players Union feels limits opportunities for its American players.
The MLSPA released a statement that called the move “a step backward for the development of soccer in the United States and Canada.”
As to the league pointing out that training compensation and solidarity payments are FIFA rules, the MLSPA calls the league self-serving, noting that MLS “routinely ignores regulations that protect players under contract to MLS.”
Under Training Compensation, whenever a professional player is transferred from a club in one FIFA member association (or federation) to a club in another federation during the course of his contract, up to five percent of the transfer fee is to be withheld and paid by the club receiving the player proportionally to the club or clubs involved in that player’s training during the years between his 12th and 23rd birthdays.
Training Compensation differs in that it is only paid for players who have not yet reached the end of their age 23 season. Solidarity Payments will be due for the duration of a player’s professional career, any time he is transferred between federations while under contract and a transfer fee is paid.
Under this system, Christian Pulisic’s youth club PA Classics could have raked in at least $548,000 from the young attackers $73.1 million transfer from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea, by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle’s reckoning.
So, it can be quite a windfall.
USSF is Switzerland on the issue
Oddly, the United States Soccer Federation has pronounced itself neutral on the issue of Training Compensation and Solidarity Payments with this rule change having come from MLS.
MLS has previously stood with the USSF against the payments but with MLS losing an increasing number of players they helped to develop Europe clubs in recent years, it is easy to see the impetus behind this move. Players like Weston McKennie, who played in the FC Dallas academy but never signed a contract with the senior club, have been lost with no compensation.
Meanwhile, the MLSPA concluded its statement with these ominous words: we will review these changes, including the Consent Decree, entered into by the U.S Soccer Federation on this subject, and will explore all options with our stakeholders.”
Oops, he did it again.
Once again Don Garber has upped the ante on MLS expansion. The league has announced that it has set a new goal of reaching 30 teams, up from the 28 the Commissioner had previously fixed as its ceiling.
Thursday evening’s announcement noted that the decision was reached by the owners at the Board of Governors meetings in Los Angeles. The league has not made any final decisions on the expansion markets, although Sacramento and St. Louis are the clear front-runners (the league’s statement said that the expansion committee “was authorized to advance discussions with Sacramento and St. Louis ownership groups regarding their bids”).
Sacramento has been in the MLS expansion mix for several years now, and after having been bypassed by cities like Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Minnesota, it looked as if the California capital was set to miss out.
As a city that has played a huge part in the history of soccer in the United States, St. Louis has long been on the league’s radar, although a compelling bid has never quite emerged.
Current state of expansion
A total of 24 teams are competing in MLS this season, with Inter Miami CF (Inter Milan lawsuit pending) and Nashville FC set to up that number to 26 next season. All going to plan, Austin FC will be club number 27 in 2021, with Garber and company obviously hoping that Sacramento and St Louis can make the case to be the league’s 28th and 29th members.
The two front-runners do not have all that much time to get their ducks in a row with the league’s announcement targeting the MLS All-Star Game, to be played on July 31st, as the target date to make a decision.
MLS has set expansion fees for franchises 28 and 29 at $200 million apiece while declining to set an expansion fee or a schedule for announcing team number 30.
Speaking of that 30th franchise, Garber said in a league statement:
“We’re going to take our time with team 30. We have many cities that are interested in that 30th team.”
In that same statement, Garber mentioned several candidates for team 30 and possibly beyond, saying, “Of late, we have been in very positive discussions in Las Vegas and in Charlotte. We still believe Phoenix is a good market. We’ve been in discussions in Detroit. I’m regularly speaking to Mayor Duggan in Detroit. I think that’s a great soccer market. So what we really need to determine is what it all means for our league 10 years from now or 20 years from now.”
Next up for Sacramento and St Louis will be to prepare formal presentations to the league’s Expansion Committee.
According to MLSsoccer.com, the cities will be asked to address their “final stadium plan, corporate commitments, the composition of the respective ownership groups, detailed economics on funding, strategic plans for fan development, commitments on player development and details on community programs.”
With uncertainty still surrounding Miami’s stadiums, the one in Miami and the one in Fort Lauderdale that is supposed to house the team for its first two seasons, and the recent news of a legislative threat to Austin’s deal as well as ongoing stadium problems with New York City FC, the New England Revolution, and the Chicago Fire potential move, item one on the league’s wishlist is bound to raise a few eyebrows.
Still, it is reasonable to assume that Sacramento and St Louis would have to present a horrendous bid to be turned away by Major League Soccer at this juncture.
Garber not worried about too much growth
MLS is already the largest first division professional soccer league in the world, having added a somewhat astounding 18 teams in just over 10 years. Garber is not worried about saturating the market saying in the league’s statement:
“Professional soccer at all levels is thriving in the United States and Canada and we believe there are many markets that could support a successful MLS club.”
The commissioner continued, “expansion during the last 15 years has been enormously successful and a key driver behind the league’s continued rise, and we are pleased that some of the top business and community leaders representing great markets in North America are aggressively pursuing MLS expansion clubs.”
A moment of madness from midfielder Kaku in which he kicked a ball in anger into the crowd, striking and injuring a fan, overshadowed a thriller 2-2 draw between the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City.
This was the first point earned by the Red Bulls after three consecutive losses. Sporting will be pleased to to snatch the draw on a late goal from 16 year-old Gianluca Busio – his third straight match with a goal.
Unfortunately, Kaku’s red card offense and looming suspension will be the talking points from the game.
Kaku, AKA Alejandro Romero Gamarra, turned to the modern day Town Hall, Twitter, after the game with the following pair of tweets in an attempt to own his actions.
I want to take the time and apologize for my actions during tonight’s match. As a competitor, I was frustrated with myself and took out my frustrations in a way that is not acceptable. I love this game and would never want to disrespect it. pic.twitter.com/0f1ufcXyJ4— kaku (@kakuromero17) April 15, 2019
What happened before Kaku’s red card…
Playing in front of an “announced” sellout, SKC made a determined start, determined to wipe out the stench of last Thursday’s 5-2 loss to Monterrey, a defeat that eliminated Peter Vermes’ side from the CONCACAF Champions League by an embarrassing 10-2 aggregate score.
KC attacked from the opening whistle, with Gerso drawing a save from Luis Robles just seconds into the match, having skipped past New York’s right fullback Michael Murillo.
But Sporting would spend most of the opening half exploiting a mismatch on the opposite side of the pitch with Johnny Russell having his way with Connor Lade, who was filling in for Kemar Lawrence, who missed out with the flu.
That strategy paid off in the 23rd minute when Russell all too easily raced past Lade on a throw-in that was put into his path by Krisztián Németh. Russell’s well struck shot put the home team in the lead.
The opening exchanges were dominated by Sporting against a shaky New York defense that also had its hands full with the intelligent play of center forward Nemeth, who was finding gaps between the Red Bulls center-back pairing of Aaron Long and Tim Parker.
The visitors began to come to grips with the match about 15 minutes in and even had the ball in Tim Melia’s net in the 16th minute before the goal was canceled out for an offside call on Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Despite New York’s improved play, SKC forced most of the first-half action with Luis Robles much busier in the NY net than Melia was at the opposite end of the field.
The Bulls picked up their play on the re-start, although Russell should have stretched the Kansas City lead just past the hour mark when he fired wide from a very dangerous area. Red Bulls coach Chris Armas then made an unusual move when he removed the team’s all-time leader in goals Wright-Phillips in the 71st minute for Brian White.
BWP went to the bench not having scored a goal in four consecutive matches. He has a total of just one in six games for the season. White made Armas look good when he headed home his first goal of 2019 in the 75th minute off a brilliant long range pass from Kaku, a reminder of what the Paraguay international can do when he uses his left foot for its intended purpose.
A desperately needed victory looked to be in the cards for New York but then up stepped Sporting’s 16 year-old sensation Gianluca Busio to deflect a Graham Zusi shot past Robles for an 88th minute equalizer.
With the goal, Busio became the youngest player in MLS history to score in three consecutive games, bettering the mark he set last week when he scored his side’s only goal in a 1-1 draw at Cincinnati.
Sporting nearly claimed all three points in added time when Daniel Salloi had Robles beaten all ends up only to see his shot carom violently off the underside of the crossbar and away.
Then, all hell broke loose.
With New York trying to start one last attack and the ball in the Red Bulls defensive end of the pitch, Kaku could be seen frantically waving for a pass out around midfield. The ball didn’t reach him, going out over the sideline for a throw-in, before rolling slowly to Kaku, prompting him to put his laces through the ball with a hard shot intended for the side boards.
Unfortunately the shot carried a little high, striking a fan in the face, or so it appeared. The Kansas City players jumped in to confront Kaku, the Red Bulls came in to back their teammate and a bit of a fracas ensued with Kaku earning a straight red card and Robles and Nemeth going into the book with yellow cards.
Kaku immediately attempted to apologize, although he reacted with incredulity to the sending off. The league is expected to come down hard on Kaku, with a multi-game suspension and a hefty fine likely.
In a welcome gesture, the Red Bulls players and coaches went to the fan and apologized as did members of Sporting KC. It’s been reported the fan did leave bloodied and dazed, however.
As for Kaku, he began the season angry with Red Bulls brass that a transfer that he wanted to Liga MX side Club America did not come off, was suspended for unstated reasons for one match earlier in the season and now this.
We will see how long Kaku is suspended for, then we will see if his final action in a Red Bulls uniform came when he kicked a ball at fan Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
Just seven days removed from Yankee Stadium SodGate, the mischief makers behind the MLS schedule sent NYCFC up north to play Minnesota FC as they opened their impressive new Allianz Stadium. After clearing snow out of the way earlier in the day, the teams played a sloppy, exciting 3-3 draw.
The stadium was story early on…
The stadium, sort of a miniature version of Bayern Munich’s larger stadium of the same name, is the culmination of United’s three-year expansion plan. It is also something of a stick in the eye to the NYCFC franchise that continues to play a distant second fiddle at Yankee Stadium, unable even to generate a decent stadium rumor for the team’s supporters to hang their hat on.
This Saturday #MNUFC opens @allianzfield. $250 million & 19,400 seats. The Beer Hall has 96 taps…and the stadium glows. The #Loons finally have their nest. That's 14 new soccer-specific stadia in @MLS since 2005. 🇺🇸⚽️ pic.twitter.com/RGazQFhF6O— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) April 11, 2019
And while NYC’s grounds crew spent last week replacing massive divots in the Yankee Stadium infield, their Minnesota counterparts earned praise for their work in clearing a spring snowstorm without causing serious damage the new team’s new pitch.
…then a wild game followed
That pitch saw plenty of early action with the sides combining for four goals in the games opening 20 minutes. The home team went to the locker room with a 3-2 lead on the strength of a Sean Johnson howler for the ages (1:50 in the below video).
Ozzie Alonso, brought in from Seattle to settle a Minnesota defensive side that became the first MLS team to allow 70 goals in consecutive seasons, had the honor on Saturday of becoming the first goal scorer in the history of Minnesota’s Allianz Stadium with a sweetly struck volley in the gam’s 13th minute.
With the St. Paul crowd rocking it was easy to forsee another disaster in the making for a New York side still searching for its first victory in 2019. Embattled NYCFC coach Dome Torrent had to be aware of City Football Group Football Administration Officer Brian Marwood sitting alongside NYCFC Director of Football Operations Claudio Reyna in one of the new stadium’s suites.
Torrent sent his team out in a new three back set up, featuring 18 year-old midfielder James Sands at the center of that three back, flanked by Maxine Chanot and Tony Rocha, who had played less than an hour this season for NYC since being acquired from Orlando in the off-season.
With Ronald Matarrita failing to provide cover for Rocha, Minnesota exploited the left side of the New York defense throughout the opening half, leading Torrent to pull Rocha on the re-start while shifting to a back four.
The visitors were much better defensively after the substitution and the formation change. So, was it personnel or formation that was at fault? It should be noted that NYC’s right side was solid all afternoon with Maxine Chanot and Anton Tinnerholm working well together. Perhaps Ben Sweat could have done better than Rocha, particularly if Matarrita paid more heed to his defensive responsibilities.
NYC did show resiliency in bouncing back with goals from Valentín Castellanos in the 16th minute and a another from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi just two minutes later. Tajouri-Shradi assisted on Castellanos’ goal with Castellanos returning the favor on Tajouri-Shradi’s tally, although the latter was recorded as unassisted because T-S needed two attempts at his shot.
But winless teams are winless for a reason, and NYCFC could not make its lead last for more than two minutes, conceding a leveler to Angelo Rodríguez in the 20th minute. Like the Loons first goal, Rodriguez’ headed goal originated on the left side of the N.Y. defense with Ethan Finlay teeing up a wide-open Rodriguez to nod home from Johnson’s doorstep.
The home side might have taken the lead on the half hour mark if not for a great tackle from Matarrita but Minnesota did go in front two minutes later on a goal that Johnson will have a hard time living down.
Under departed coach Patrick Vieira, Johnson has made huge strides as a ball playing goalkeeper, to the point where Gregg Berhalter has recalled the New York keeper to the USMNT. But on Saturday afternoon, Johnson took a simple back pass from Ebenezer Ofori and turned it back toward and ultimately into his own goal for a head shaking howler.
As well as costing his team the lead Johnson’s miscue revived a reputation that the former Chicago Fire keeper had worked diligently to put behind him, that of a goalkeeper given to the occasional, inexplicable blunder.
The most costly of those miscues came in 2012 against El Salvador, when Johnson allowed a long range shot to bounce past him, costing the U.S. an Olympic berth. Johnson has fought that “unreliable” label ever since and seemed to have put it behind him.
To his immense credit Johnson has never shied from taking responsibility when things turn ugly and so he turned to twitter Saturday.
I owe all the boys one tonight for having my back in a big way! Everyone gave everything to get back in the game and go back to NYC with a point! #NYCFC— Sean Johnson (@SeanJohnGK) April 13, 2019
“The boys” did indeed have Johnson’s back against Minnesota, outplaying the hosts by a wide margin in the second half. Referee Alan Kelly and VAR combined to overturn an NYCFC goal by Castellanos, who tried for a “Bicep of God goal” only to be caught by the technology of the day.
Kelly also consulted VAR to overrule a Minnesota penalty claim, with Finlay correctly penalized for being offside prior to the infringement.
New York did get its equalizer, however, in the 64th minute on a deflected free kick from Tojouri-Shradi, who was credited with the goal despite a touch off of Minnesota defender Francisco Calvo.
New York would lose two goal man Tajouri-Shradi to a leg injury in the 74th minute before a disturbing incident that sent Minnesota’s Ike Opara and NYC’s Castellanos to the sideline after a violent clash of heads on a Loons corner kick.
Both players required attention on the pitch with Opara also bleeding. Castellanos attempted to return before New York’s medical staff wisely stepped in, ending what was by far the best performance of the forwards NYCFC career to date.
The USWNT throttled Belgium Sunday night 6-0 at the beautiful Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, in a game that taught us nothing much at all.
Oh, it was nice to be reminded that Carli Lloyd is still Carli Freakin’ Lloyd, and the former FIFA Player of the Year reminded us of that with two goals in a determined display.
And with an astounding five (!!!!!) headed goals out of six U.S. tallies, we also learned that the U.S can still rely on the “Abby Wambach Route 1” approach if need be. What we did not learn is if the American defense can be trusted against upper echelon teams in France this June at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Effective line-up changes hard to evaluate given the competition
Last week’s 5-3 win over Australia raised some doubts about that defense that clobbering Belgium simply could not assuage. Against Belgium, coach Jill Ellis reverted to playing Julie Ertz at center-back next to her 2015 World Cup partner Becky Sauerbrunn. Ellis surprisingly shifted prospective center-back Tierna Davidson to left-back, a move that allowed Crystal Dunn to trade her by now usual fullback role for the relative freedom of the midfield.
Sam Mewis subbed in for late scratch Rose Lavelle, and Ellis played a second string front three consisting of Lloyd flanked by Christen Press and Mallory Pugh. This is an amazing second choice trio and an embarrassment of attacking riches, but no one is unseating a healthy Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Megan Rapinoe front line.
It took Lloyd 14 minutes to head home a Davidson cross (0:24 in the below video). Less than five minutes later, Lloyd nodded home again from brilliant work by Dunn (0:55 in the below vid).
By the time Lindsey Horan and Mewis added headed goals of their own the Yanks led 4-0 and Ellis had undone all her lineup changes sending Davison to center back, Ertz to the midfield, and Dunn back into defense.
What had Ellis learned in that half an hour that she did not in the past three years? That Ertz, then Julie Johnston, who made the 2015 World Cup All Star Team and was shortlisted for the Golden Ball, can play defense?
That Dunn a former NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner as a striker can flourish further up the pitch? These would seem to be knowns. And what does a hat-trick of assists versus Belgium really tell us about Christen Press?
Ellis has noted that Press can be an effective distributor, but that playmaking has primarily come from a wide role for Press. Press did see some minutes recently at the number 10 spot but Ellis is seeming locked in on Lavelle for that role. Perhaps the coach could have tried Press centrally a bit more often these past three years?
Any U.S. Women’s national Team Coach would have faced the same challenges that Ellis has has since that historic flameout versus Sweden in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. There had to be turnover, there had to be experimentation. There is the feeling in some quarters, this being one, that answers should have been found by now for some of these questions.
And before we get to the most obvious position in need of clarity, center-back, let’s talk briefly about the one position the Ellis was reluctant to experiment with these past three years: goalkeeper.
Ellis gave Ashlyn Harris a bit of a look, and Jane Campbell and Adrianna Franch were briefly considered but Ellis seemed to lock in on Alyssa Naeher to replace Hope Solo and it never seemed to be a genuinely open competition.
Naeher has been good, can she be great? Could one of the others?
But back to the center of the U.S. defense, center-back. 33 year-old Becky Sauerbrunn remains entrenched in one spot, deservedly. But Ellis’ temptation to return to Ertz can be read as a lack of confidence in her other options, 20 year-old Tierna Davidson and 25 year-old Abby Dahlkemper.
When Ertz was moved forward to the defensive midfielder role in 2017, she was considered both a revelation and a solution. Partnered with Horan and Mewis, the midfield was secured. Looking for a bit more offensive ability, Ellis would work Lavelle into the number 10 role at the expense of Mewis, although Mewis continues to impress when called upon.
Time is running out to find the right answers
Just three friendlies remain before the USWNT begin World Cup play on June 11 versus Thailand. With all due respect, Ellis could put out any number of lineups and beat Thailand. The same holds for Chile five days later.
The next real test for the U.S comes versus old friend Pia Sundhage and Sweden. It is a chance to avenge Brazil 2016, it is a chance for Ellis to even the score with her former boss, but most importantly it could be a step on the road to a World Cup Championship.
Then, and only then, is when we will find out if Ellis got it right with all of her tinkering.
U.S. Women’s National Team Match Report
Match: U.S. Women’s National Team vs. Belgium
Date: April 7, 2019
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Banc of California Stadium; Los Angeles, Calif.
Kickoff: 6 p.m. PT
Weather: 70 degrees; Partly cloudy
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 4 2 6
BEL 0 0 0
USA – Carli Lloyd (Tierna Davidson) 14th minute
USA – Carli Lloyd (Crystal Dunn) 19
USA – Lindsey Horan (Christen Press) 26
USA – Samantha Mewis (Christen Press) 33
USA – Alex Morgan (Carli Lloyd) 52
USA – Jessica McDonald (Christen Press) 90+1
USA: 1-Alyssa Naeher (24-Ashlyn Harris, 46); 11-Ali Krieger, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 8-Julie Ertz (7-Abby Dahlkemper, 46), 12-Tierna Davidson; 9-Lindsey Horan (20-Allie Long, 60), 19-Crystal Dunn (13-Alex Morgan, 46), 3-Samantha Mewis (25-McCall Zerboni, 73); 22-Mallory Pugh (26-Jessica McDonald, 61), 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.), 23-Christen Press
Substitutes not used: 2-Emily Sonnett, 17-Tobin Heath
Head coach: Jill Ellis
BEL: 21-Nicky Evrard; 2-Davina Philtjens (5-Shari Van Belle, 59), 4-Heleen Jaques (17-Maud Coutereels, 59), 6-Tine De Caigny (3-Ella Van Kerkhoven, 80), 9-Tessa Wullaert (capt.), 11-Janice Cayman, 18-Laura De Neve, 19-Chloé Vande Velde (13-Elena Dhont, 46), 20-Julie Biesmans, 22-Laura Deloose (16-Sarah Wijnants, 85), 23-Kassandra Missipo (8-Lenie Onzia, 86)
Substitutes not used: 1-Justien Odeurs, 12-Lisa Lichtfus, 14-Davinia Vanmechelen
Head coach: Ives Serneels
Stats Summary: USA / BEL
Shots: 17 / 4
Shots on Goal: 8 / 0
Saves: 0 / 2
Corner Kicks: 4 / 2
Fouls: 6 / 10
Offside: 1 / 2
USA – Carli Lloyd (caution) 64th minute
BEL – Maud Coutereels (caution) 90
Referee: Ekaterina Koroleva (USA)
Assistant Referee 1: Kathryn Nesbitt (USA)
Assistant Referee 2: Felisha Mariscal (USA)
4th Official: Karen Abt (USA)
Woman of the Match: Carli Lloyd