After a disastrous 2009 season and another offseason of whole-sale roster and staff changes, the New York Red Bulls finally seemed liked a franchise ready to turn things around. The team opened a brand new stadium and opened the season with a 5-1 record, sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings.
However the past may have caught up on the Red Bulls. They have lost their last three league games and have been outscored 8-1. There has been a lack of goal scoring, strong defending, and overall enthusiasm and heart.
The reserves meanwhile have watched their collective stock skyrocket. Because of a schedule loaded with league games, U.S. Open Cup games, and friendlies with international clubs, head coach Hans Backe decided to use his bench in the Open Cup and friendlies. So far he has seen incredible results.
In non-league games since the start of the season the Red Bulls have four wins and zero losses and have outscored the competition 11-2. The “Baby Bulls”, as they are being called, have been impressive winning three games to qualify for the Open Cup and beating Italian giants Juventus. Opposing teams have also used mostly starters against them, making the performances even more impressive.
Finally given significant playing time, the reserves are stepping up to the occasion and proving their worth. With the regulars struggling, it might be wise for Backe to give some of the reserves an opportunity during league play matches.
While inconsistency in the lineups was a huge problem for the team in its disastrous 2009 season, with players shuffling in and out of the lineup and no time to gel as a unit, some changes, even temporary, to shake things up could be in order.
The biggest issue has been pairing a striker alongside Juan Pablo Angel since Macoumba Kandji went down with an injury.
Salou Ibrahim has been the forward of choice, and he has scored two goals, but overall he is disappointing. He tends to be slow and botches a number of chances. However, John Wolyniec and rookie Conor Chinn have been scoring goals in bunches. Both have put in four goals in the four games the reserves have played.
Wolyniec is a local fan favorite who throughout his career has provided big goals and is always big on effort. Chinn’s recent scoring streak shouldn’t be a surprise either, as he was the second leading scorer behind Angel in the preseason. Either needs to be implemented into the starting lineup immediately.
The midfield could also see a number of changes. Joel Lindpere missed the previous match against the Columbus Crew because of injury and Carl Robinson will miss the next five-to-six weeks because of a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.
With the depth at center midfield now shaky, it is time to let Tony Tchani, the second overall pick in the 2010 MLS draft, get regular playing time. He is a bit raw, but incredibly talented. He scored the lone goal against Columbus and has looked impressive in his other matches.
The wings, for the most part, have been unsettled positions. Dan Richards has played every match, mostly on the right, but is wildly inconsistent, a problem his entire career. His speed is valued though and he can break loose at any time and be involved in a great play.
The recent matches have provided a number of alternative choices however. Two names come to mind immediately: Irving Garcia and Jeremy Hall.
Garcia was a late draft pick in 2010 Draft. He is small in stature but huge in effort and hustle. He is constantly working on both ends of the field. He played extremely well against Juventus and added an assist in the Open Cup win over the Colorado Rapids. He has good pace and coupled with his grit he has been very impressive lately.
Hall was originally drafted last season to be a wing but was used as a right fullback, where he did an overall good job. He’s bounced around a bit this season but can do the job at wing. He fired home a great streak against Juventus and like Garcia has very good speed, and his time at defense only helped his understanding of being a two-way player.
He could still be used at right back, but the midfield has struggled and the return and emergence of Chris Albright.
Albright missed the beginning of the season because of injury but he has healed and has shown very good form since making his debut in the first Open Cup match against Philadelphia. His experience and leadership make him a strong candidate to start and to solidify a defensive unit that has been hit hard as of late.
Finally, there is the goalkeeping position.
Bouna Coundoul has generally played well in his time in New York, although he has had some very shaky instances. He does have more talent than his backup, Greg Sutton, and rotating goalies much like Jon Conway and Danny Cepero did last year isn’t suggested, Sutton has played in a four “reserve” matches and played strongly. Two goals allowed in four games, especially one against the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet, is impressive and he might have earned a spot start.
It isn’t time for the Red Bulls and the team’s fans to panic yet; it simply is a rough patch in a season that isn’t even a third complete yet. That being said, it is not a time for players to become complacent. It does not have to be a temporary move, especially with the transfer window opening again soon, but it may be wise to shake things up a little bit and reward some of the very good play of the bench.