The New York Red Bulls have spent a lot of money on their current roster, pushing as close to the salary cap as possible. The team has two designated players and 12 players who have made appearances for their respective senior national teams.
With the amount of talent on the team and the money invested on it, it seems surprising that they are a work in progress. But after New York’s 1-0 loss to FC Dallas on Sunday, improvement is a necessity.
There were so many things that the Red Bulls did in the first game of the season that showed the team was not ready for the match or prepared for its opponent.
The first and most obvious issue the team had was defending.
Things were always going to be interesting without Tim Ream (transfer to England), without Rafa Marquez (suspended) and with a new rookie goalkeeper starting. While Ryan Meara showed some moments of fearlessness and made a couple of nice saves, the defending in front of him was sub-par.
Communication was lacking, allowing guys to roam free. They were pulled too far up and into the attack, both on the wings and in the middle of the field, and were beaten often in transition. The clearing was also bad, exhibited on FC Dallas’ first goal.
The Red Bulls whiffed twice on clearing a cross out of the box before Zach Loyd was able to pounce on the ball and put it in the back of the net to take the early lead.
Newcomer Markus Holgersson was one of the two defenders to muff the clearance and he struggled throughout the game with the ball on his feet.
It wasn’t just the clearances that accounted for bad ball movement though. The passing wasn’t sharp at all. The Red Bulls are fond of moving the ball on the ground, but in the opening game of the season it looked like the team was rusty. Many of the passes were short of their target and turnovers were abundant.
The second Dallas goal came from an intercepted back pass—a rather poor decision—from fullback Roy Miller, which lead to a two-on-one breakaway and a chip over a diving Meara.
Coupled with bad passing was a bad touch on the ball, either on a first touch or when making a push forward. They may have held onto the ball longer, but their possession was sloppy.
Mehdi Ballouchy came on as a sub with four minutes remaining and managed to turn the ball over at least three times.
All these things were made worse by poor spacing. New York players looked to bunch together often, both on and off the ball. Many times players would dribble into spaces occupied by other players, with the teammate failing to clear out. Other times players would make off-ball runs right into each other.
The spaces were congested with players and made it easy for one defender to cover two Red Bulls, and for two defenders to absolutely smother the offense.
Another failure from the team was a lack of midfield presence, specifically in the middle. While passing was poor, there was no conduit from the defense to the offense. Thierry Henry and Juan Agudelo failed to get many touches early on.
For Henry to get involved in the game, he had to come back deep into the midfield, almost out of the same spot where defensive midfielder Teemu Tainio was at, in order to get the ball.
He had to navigate himself out of a crowded midfield, was never truly in a dangerous position on the field to make a positive play and when he sprung the ball forward the team never was able to get on a fast-break because there was only one person forward. Often, it was only one or two Red Bulls against about four defenders.
Give credit to FC Dallas, which defended as a unit and capitalized on turnovers and opportunities.
New York, however, looked like they thought they were still playing in a preseason game.
Maybe it was first-game jitters, especially for the new players. Maybe the team needs more time to gel.
Whatever the case the team was not prepared for this game and things need to be improved otherwise it could be another disappointing season.