Backline a priority for Red Bulls in 2011
As 2010 turns into 2011, the Red Bulls can look back on arguably their most successful season in a decade. As New York get ready to head into their second year at Red Bull Arena, beat writer Kristian Dyer takes a look at the first of three New Year’s resolutions for New York: getting back the basics on the backline.
The Red Bulls had their best season ever defensively in 2010, conceding an Eastern Conference best 29 goals this season – just under a goal a game. New York’s back four was stingy and compact, a unit known for maintaining its shape. If New York want to repeat as conference champions for the first time in franchise history, they will need to stay sharp defensively.
But that may not be as easy as it sounds.
Right back Chris Albright, perhaps the team’s most unheralded signing last year, turns 32 this m month and has a few injuries and a veteran number of years under his belt. Boasting international experience and a penchant for moving forward into the attack, Albright was the type of right back who fit perfectly into head coach Hans Backe’s system. Importantly, he formed a solid chemistry with right wing Dane Richards as they inter-changed and overlapped well up and down the flank.
But by season’s end, Albright looked spent and with the offseason trade of Jeremy Hall to Portland, there is no true cover at the position. Adding depth and versatility here is a pressing area for the club, and the late-season acquisition of Carey Talley may not be the answer.
There is also a question mark at centerback next to Tim Ream, the now US-capped defender who made a solid case for Rookie of the Year. While Ream is penciled in as a starter, next to him for much of the second half of the season was Carlos Mendes. While serviceable and a local favorite, Mendes is a rugged defender but slow of foot and not a highly technical player. Mendes is a possible area of upgrade for the team, but can Backe find value and savvy to slot in next to Ream?
There’s also no real solution at left back, where Costa Rican international Roy Miller started the season before an injury forced Danleigh Borman into the Starting XI. Borman was solid and rarely had a bad game, but he may not be anything more than a role player in MLS. And Miller was highly erratic throughout his first season in the league, a player with suspect positioning who overcompensated at times with reckless challenges.
The backline’s paper-thin depth was underscored after Luke Sassano was taken in the Re-Entry Draft and Mike Petke retired after 2010.
The Red Bulls did well in the SuperDraft last year, getting Ream in the second round in what seemed like a puzzling draft pick at the time. There might be value in a 2009 draft pick, massively-built Babajide Ogunbiyi. The 2009 second round pick might be on his way out of Danish club Viborg and his powerful presence and penchant for the occasional goal might be a good fit next to Ream.
And central midfielder Rafa Márquez has played the backline for both old club Barcelona and Mexico. He'd be a natural fit and upgrade centrally next to Ream.
And let’s not forget about trialist Clebao, a Brazilian defender who showed well in the Barclays New York Challenge against Manchester City. Another answer might come internally, with Boston College’s Sacir Hot an intriguing option.
Called in to the most recent U-20 national team camp, the former academy product is a strong centerback who is savvy and smooth on the ball. When seen in Red Bulls camp in August, Hot was originally mistaken by observers as a forward because of the way he was finishing in drills.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012
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