The Chicago Fire had owned New York in recent history. But the 1-0 victory by the Red Bulls in the first official match at Red Bull Arena did more than just reverse a trend [WATCH HIGHLIGHTS HERE].
(1) This Team Has Moved Beyond ’09: One game into the 2010 season and New York seems to have moved beyond its last place finish from a year ago. The core of Saturday night’s team was in place last year (eight starters) but they have a new outlook. One big reason is the midfield addition of Joel Lindpere, who orchestrated much of the game’s flow. Jeremy Hall called him a “friggin’ pit bull” after the game.
(2) Centrally Compact: The Red Bulls had no problem conceding the wings to Chicago, especially as the visitors pressed on for an equalizer in the second half, but that was by design. Look for this year’s Red Bulls to focus on maintaining their shape centrally and clogging up the middle. The team benefited from the high work rate of Lindpere, who probably covered more turf on Saturday night than any other player on the field.
(3) Pretty Great Dane: Jamaican international Dane Richards followed up a great performance in last week’s 3-1 friendly win over Santos with another good effort against Chicago. Richards was the most dangerous player on the wing for New York and consistently got behind the Fire defense. His shooting is still suspect and his crossing still needs work, but Richards admits that he is playing more freely this year, and it shows.
(4) The Defense Holds: It took a stoppage time goal in the second half for Brazilian club Santos to get on the scoreboard two weekends ago and the defense once again held steady on Saturday night against Chicago. New left back Roy Miller was a threat in attack and rookie Tim Ream partnered well with Mike Petke in the center. Most of all, the back four were composed and distributed the ball well. There were some scary moments, but that’s why God made Bouna Coundoul the most acrobatic keeper in the league.
(5) The 12th Man: In his post-game comments, Petke lauded the fans and head coach Hans Backe said an atmosphere like Saturday night is worth “six or seven points” in league play. From the smoke bombs and drums behind the goal to yet another appearance of the wave by the fans against Chicago, Red Bull Arena is proving to be, alongside Seattle and Toronto, one of the best atmospheres in MLS. Question is, can the team continue to give the fans a reason to come back?
This New York team is much improved from last year but still needs one or two pieces to contend with the likes of Columbus for the Eastern Conference title. One of those pieces may have been on hand Saturday night as former New York midfielder Dave van den Bergh was honored before the game as one of the club’s all-time best 11 players.
The Dutchman would be an ideal signing as his solid left foot and ability on set pieces would benefit the team – and he wants to be back in New York. If the Red Bulls are interested – and they should be – the fan favorite Van den Bergh would be another enticing part of the New York attack. Plus, his move to the left wing would let Hall stay at right back, where he has begun to look comfortable and dangerous.