Red Bulls focused on possession game in '11

Why Mehdi Ballouchy will be critical; Dane Richards as a striker?

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – For anyone looking for a clue as to what type of team the New York Red Bulls will be in 2011, they got it on Wednesday afternoon at Lockhart Stadium in the 1-1 tie against the Chicago Fire.

The Red Bulls owned the first half, comfortably knocking the ball around as the Fire could only chase, sit back and look to contain the offensive.

“I’m happy with the first half,” Red Bulls manager Hans Backe said. “The possession, the way we moved. We couldn’t really break them down, but to play a team that defends well, perhaps we will see that a lot when we play at home.”

Defender Tim Ream was pleased that his side maintained possession for the first 60 minutes or so, though he sees room for improvement.

“We’re trying to work up to a full 90," Ream said. "Overall it was a good display of possession and we created some chances. Overall it was a solid performance.”

Critical to the possession game is midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, whose is increasingly becoming a key cog in Backe’s plans. He played behind the forward duo of Thierry Henry and Juan Agudelo and in front of holding midfielder Tony Tchani.

“That is his best position, in the middle of the park,” Backe said. “He’s always asking for the ball, and hopefully he’s the guy for the final passes, too.”

One player who didn’t see much of the ball is new Norwegian acquisition Jan Gunnar Solli. He had an anonymous 90 minutes against the Fire at right midfield, rarely troubling the opposition. His manager insists that if the Red Bulls can “feed him the right way, he can be a very dangerous player.”

The other tactical nuance from Wednesday’s match of interest to Red Bulls fans involves Dane Richards lining up at forward alongside Agudelo. Backe says that although Richards is a winger, he still needs him to be ready to perform at striker.

“We need to have him as an option because Rodgers is still injured in his knee,” Backe said. “So we have to go with Henry, Agudelo, Richards and the young guy Corey Hertzog.”

Next up for New York this preseason: Saturday against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, formerly known as Miami FC. The objective in that match? It’s the theme of 2011: Continue to dominate.

“Keep possession the full 90 instead of 70,” said Ream, who had his right thigh iced at the end of practice after experiencing tightness. “That comes with being more fit. As guys get 90 fit it’s going to be easier to keep the ball and keep possession for a full 90 minutes.”

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