There is a theory around MLS that Euro coaches/general managers struggle in the League due to the odd player acquisition rules and what-not. The New York Red Bulls don't seem to be having problems related to that. They have managed to trade for an amazing talent (Dwayne De Rosario), sign two huge DPs (Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez) and acquired decent role-players through draft or international discovery. They lead the Eastern Conference with their high powered offense, and come to Century Link Field with the 4th PPM spot on the single table on the line. Once a Metro provides the deeper look via three questions.
SaH: Is Red Bull deep enough to lose so many players to cards and the Gold Cup and still compete?
OaM: I think it's fair to say that we already know the answer to this question -- yes. The Red Bulls have been a significant portion of their starting XI in five games so far this season due to international call-ups but haven't lost any of those matches, three of which were away games, with two of those trips to the Northwest. I certainly had plenty of doubts over the quality of New York's depth before the season started, but the back-ups seem to be capable (though far from brilliant) players by MLS standards. At the same time, I'm far from optimistic about the Red Bulls' chances against the Sounders because of our serious problems in defense (more about that later). De Rosario and Richards are potent attackers, but New York will have to score a few if they are to come away with a result.
SaH: Luke Rodgers and Joel Lindpere have been two great finds from leagues that don't get attention from MLS scouting. What can the rest of MLS learn from these signings?
OaM: Rodgers will almost certainly miss out on Thursday's game with plantar fasciitis, but both he and Lindpere have been key for the Red Bulls this season. Neither is a spectacular flashy talent, but they both work very hard and have plenty of technical quality to complement their incessant running and closing down. They also had profoundly different stories before they joined the Red Bulls; the common thread between them is that Erik Soler and Hans Backe have done a very good job of combing through players with whom they've worked before and identifying those who have the quality to help out in New York, even if those players are not from high-profile clubs or leagues.
SaH: What Sounders will Backe need to plan around?
OaM: Anyone who gets remotely close to the penalty area. The Red Bulls' defense is pretty good with Tim Ream and Rafael Márquez at the back, but as we've seen over the last few weeks, New York has problems when those two are out. After conceding just twice in their first seven games, New York hasn't kept a clean sheet since the end of April, and has conceded two or more goals in four of their last seven games. The most obvious individual threat for Thursday's game is definitely Montero, but pretty much any player who can put a ball on target, particularly from a set piece, will cause the Red Bulls problems.
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OaM: Fredy Montero has had an up-and-down third season in Seattle. Do you think that his wonderful, free-kick winner against Toronto indicates that the Colombian has finally overcome his consistency problems or was it just a flash of brilliance that will frustrate Sounder supporters - and Sigi Schmid - when his woes return?
SaH: I think Sounders supporters will always be frustrated with Montero. As a forward who was left up top as a tactical decision he gets slammed with the lazy tag. It is actually just lazy analysis. Fredy can do amazing things. In any game there is going to be a few different five minute stretches where he looks like he belongs in better leagues, in top leagues. But those moments don't last, and that's why he's in MLS. He is still an amazing talent to watch, and probably a bit misunderstood when seen as just a striker.
He's more that that. He's a playmaker and scorer at the same time. He picks up the ball in deep spaces, and ideally dribbles past one, passes out to the wing gets the return, feints and shoots. He can also thread the ball or create with a flick of the toe. Has his scoring been unlocked? Maybe not. He's still got three goals and four assists on the year. That's pretty decent.
OaM: Adrian Hanauer recently stated, "I don't think it's been an atrocious half season, but it hasn't quite been what we would've hoped." Would you agree with this sentiment about this year and do you think that Seattle will improve or decline in the second segment of the season?
SaH: That's probably right. Seattle has been merely decent, maybe better than average, but not good. We expected good. The fanbase wanted a run at all three major trophies, but now probably only two are possible (US Open Cup, MLS Cup). Still, that's a decent season, and likely to get better. O'Brian White will be coming back (3-4 weeks) and he looked finally recovered from his knee issues in Toronto. On top of that Seattle will add 1 or 2 significant pieces, one a DP. There will likely be a shift in the Reserves as well because they continue to trial guys who seem to have higher upside than we are seeing down there. The Sounders should hit 55 points on the season, and may even push for 60. All that while making a run in the CCL and the US Open Cup. They are still the talented side that was a pre-season favorite, and will be adding to that.
OaM: Finally, what adjustments to the back-line will Schmid have to make with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado suspended?
SaH: Normally I would say that it would be a simple injection of Patrick Ianni. But he didn't even travel to Toronto. Sigi said on Tuesday that it was because Zach Scott earned the trip through solid performances in practice and with the Reserves. So now it is up in the air. A guy that has a history of being a solid starting CB or the seasoned lower division vet who is clearly performing above his expected level and has been all year. At this point I kind of expect to see Scott because he's one of those physical/borderline players that annoys the crap out of attacking players.
Bonus points (points not redeemable) to those who know why the Red Bull NY SBN site is called Once a Metro.