Designated Players can bring a lot of short-term things to the franchises that sign them.
There are the headlines, the extra revenue generated from an increase in tickets and merchandise, and the experience from years of playing the sport in the world’s top league with the top teams and teammates.
The New York Red Bulls are learning that what they won’t necessarily bring, right away at least, is wins.
Since July 15, the Red Bulls have signed former Barcelona stars Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez to go along with their first Designated Player, Juan Pablo Angel.
In the four league games Henry has played in, the team has gone 1-1-2 and has been shut out twice, scoring a total of only three goals—two against the Houston Dynamo in a game that they blew a 2-1 lead in the final minutes of the match.
In the two games Marquez has played, the team has not scored or won.
It’s not an encouraging sign for a team that many are jumping on the bandwagon as serious MLS Cup contenders.
However, it is not time yet for the long-suffering New York fans to go into a panic.
Henry and Marquez are just beginning to get their feet wet in MLS. They are transitioning to a new team, a new league, and a new city to live in. For the two stars, it is simply an adjustment period.
Henry has already showed what he is capable of. He assisted on all three goals the team has scored in his four matches. He is linking up with Angel extremely well, and he himself is attacking the goal strong but is just unlucky in the finishing department.
Marquez, a defensive-minded player, has been a major part in why the Red Bulls have only given up one goal in his two games. He helped anchor the defense in holding the Chicago Fire, with Designated Players Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo, scoreless, and surrendered only one goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the league’s top team and second-highest scoring team.
While the Red Bulls cannot afford to let up, they are in a good position with the tiniest bit of leeway, enough to win some points and let their superstars get comfortable.
What the fans need is patience.
Had this been last year, who knows what former coach Juan Carlos Osorio would have done. The never-happy, constant-tinkering could have delayed the progress of the team gelling and the players getting comfortable.
But Hans Backe is different. He generally keeps the lineup and formation consistent, and he rides the hot hand. Backe knows the stars the team has acquired and fully understands there is necessary adjustment time. And he will give them that time.
A franchise long infamous for bad luck and silly decisions finally has some hope. There is the second place standing after last season’s debacle, the new stadium, and the commitment to winning bringing in an additional two Designated Players. There is plenty for Red Bull fans to be optimistic about.
Rough patches happen. Some fans may be thinking, “Same old Red Bulls.” But there is plenty of reason to keep hope.
Henry and Marquez will get it together sooner rather than later, and the team will certainly be a dominant force when it does happen.
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