Breaking Backe Down: A look at NY's GKs

Coundoul a top shot-stopper, but Sutton's got safe hands, too

At 7-5, the Red Bulls already have more wins than all of 2009 with a little more than a third of the season played. Tied for first place in the Eastern Conference, New York heads into MLS’ break for the World Cup with some momentum as winners of two straight.

Over the next few days, MLSsoccer.com will be publishing a positional breakdown of the Red Bulls as they head into the break.


The Goalkeeping Situation

The Red Bulls have conceded the sixth most goals in the league, a stat inflated by the fact that in two of their last six regular season games, the team was at least a man down at the final whistle. While the team is on pace to be near last year’s tally of 47 goals conceded, the defense has improved greatly—credit the play of a tighter, more compact back line for that one.

That isn’t to say that Bouna Coundoul in goal hasn’t had his moments – both good and bad – for New York. A mid-April 2-1 result over FC Dallas showed Coundoul at his best: “world-class” according to head coach Hans Backe. Making save after save, Coundoul put in perhaps one of the most impressive displays of shot-blocking in team history. Some might rightly say the best that MLS has ever seen.

Then there are moments like the week before the stellar FC Dallas game, when a Coundoul own goal gave Chivas USA a lead they would not relinquish in a 2-0 road loss. That blunder is still a head scratcher for New York fans [WATCH: Coundoul scores an own goal].

Coundoul also has struggled with his goal kicks, often short hopping his efforts like he did against Houston last Wednesday night. In recent games, defenders Mike Petke and Tim Ream took the team’s goal kicks. Here he must improve.

The keeper must be praised for his improved control of the box. Coundoul is not the largest keeper in the league by any stretch of the imagination – or any stretch of his frame – but he is handling crosses and driven balls much better than during his stretch with Colorado. Credit the hard work of Des McAleenan, the Red Bulls’ goalkeeper coach, with the improved play of Coundoul in handling aerial balls.

While all the attention is on Coundoul, who has played every minute in the league this year, Greg Sutton has been instrumental to the Red Bulls’ winning ways. While it won’t show up in the team’s 7-5 mark in league play, Sutton has started and played every minute in the team’s three U.S. Open Cup wins, conceding just one goal during that stretch.

Sutton made some nice saves in the recent win over Colorado and has shown himself quite well in the tournament. He also played well in two recent friendly fixtures, an April win over Santos and then a May win against Juventus. He conceded just two goals in the contests, and the Red Bulls have failed to lose with Sutton in goal this year. His distribution and powerful kicks are an asset to the team, and he’s improved his shot-blocking skills and ability to get low since working with McAleenan.

All these games mean that Sutton is match ready. Over the two friendly games and three cup games, Sutton has proven that he can play and be a starter in this league.

Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.