Sure, lots of fun news about Designated Players, and two great games tonight, but there is also a rather important home game Saturday night for the Sounders. You can join me for pre-game at Elysian Fields in the private room on the First Avenue side at 5PM.
But let's move to match day, things between the touch and endlines. Red Bull is a very different team than last year. They've undergone a significant level of roster change, as well as management change. They also have that beautiful brand-new stadium. And a new blog on SBNation.
In approaching this game we exchanged three key questions defining our teams. Mine should be
up any moment (now!), but here you can read my three questions about Red Bull New York
The team seems similar in some ways to an expansion side with a high level of roster churn, coach new to the league and sporting director new to the league? He actually answered this non-question as if it were one.
Chirs - Talent wise, I'd say the Red Bulls are much closer to a mid-table type team than an expansion side who may fall near the bottom. While there has been a solid amount of roster turnover, the team still has a lot of veteran players it can count on in Juan Pablo Angel, Carl Robinson, and Mike Petke. Also, there are still some players who were around when the team made it to the 2008 MLS Cup, like Dane Richards and even guys like Kevin Goldthwaite and Sinisa Ubiparipovic, who aren't even full-time starters on the 2010 squad. So far, the early returns on draftees and newcomers has been good. Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere was the team's best player on the field last week, and solidifies the center of midfield. Rookie defender Tim Ream is looking like a steal at number 18 overall, and looks like he can contend for Rookie of the Year. The Red Bulls aren't world beaters, and probably won't contend for MLS Cup, but are far from the cellar dwellers they were last year, provided they stay healthy in the important spots.
As for the staff being new to MLS, it's no secret that foreigners have not fared well in the league in the past. There's a few factors that are helping coach Hans Backe and Sporting Director Erik Soler get acclimated quickly. First, and something that is very underrated, is the influence of assistant coaches Richie Williams and Des McAleenan. Williams was a player in the league, and has coached here since 2006. He is very familiar with the nuances of the league, as is McAleenan, who has been the goalkeepers coach with the franchise for 10 seasons now. Secondly, I think the fact that the duo of Backe/Soler have experience in smaller European leagues (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) has prepared them for running a club on a tight budget. Unlike the Ruud Gullitt disaster in Los Angeles, where Gullitt didn't even understand the college draft, Backe understands that he has a limited amount of resources to work with. For what it's worth, Backe seems to "get it". Of course, there is plenty of time to go, but this doesn't have the early makings of another foreign disaster.
Will this be the year that Juan Pablo Angel starts to fade?
Juan Pablo Angel is certainly not getting any younger or faster, but until it happens, I see no reason to believe he can't continue to be a factor in the league for the next few years, as long as the team around him is built properly. Angel wasn't even 100% coming into last week's opener, and really could have had a couple goals. On top of being a great finisher, he always seems to be in the right place, a good combination for goalscoring. Eventually, yes, Angel will start to fade and his production will drop. In his three seasons in the league, his goal total has gone down each year, from 19 to 14 to 12. This year, playing in Red Bull Arena on natural grass will be a huge factor for his health. The turn at Giants Stadium was the worst surface in the world to play soccer on, and Angel was dealing with nagging injuries for the bulk of the past two seasons. If healthy, I see no reason why Angel cant score 14-17 goals this season.
Is the Front Office satisfied with the Keeper situation?
I think the front office is content to let the ball roll with Bouna Coundoul as the first choice keeper. Veteran Greg Sutton was brought in as a back-up, and can fill that role nicely. Coundoul is an aggressive keeper who can get a little too adventurous at times, but he is a capable MLS starting keeper. I think the fact that former Chicago Fire keeper Jon Busch was recently cut, and the Red Bulls chose to not jump on him shows that they're okay with Coundoul. Is Busch a better keeper? Sure. But for the money, Coundoul can be good enough, and funds can be spent elsewhere to help improve the squad.
We'll preview the match soon.