When the Red Bulls traded on Monday afternoon for former Colorado playmaker Mehdi Ballouchy, New York’s newest acquisition was asked how he would feel feeding balls to Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel.
But in Thursday night's 2-2 draw against FC Dallas, it turned out that the midfield would be feeding Ballouchy.
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New York head coach Hans Backe opted with a tactical move to gain more possession against one of the league's savviest teams on the ball, leaving Ángel, the league’s second leading goal scorer on the bench, and inserting Ballouchy behind Henry.
The Red Bulls had experienced first hand how much control FCD could exert, and didn't want a repeat. In April, when the Red Bulls played against FCD, New York had a hard time with their opponent’s midfield. FCD held possession and pushed into the attack in wave after wave as the Red Bulls held on for a 2-1 win against the run of play.
But on Thursday night, with the addition of Ballouchy to the team, the Red Bulls and their 4-4-2 lineup at times flowed more like a 4-5-1 formation.
Ballouchy wasn’t quite a second striker, but he acknowledges not being a true central midfielder either.
“Kind of … an advanced midfielder,” Ballouchy told MLSSoccer.com about his position on the pitch. “Obviously, I like to drop back and get involved and on the ball. I wasn’t really a forward, I was an attacking mid.”
Earlier this week, head coach Hans Backe said that Ballouchy was “the missing link” between the midfield and New York’s forwards, a player that could make that final pass. The irony of Thursday night’s match was that Ballouchy, who was traded to create opportunities for others, was the most dangerous player for New York.
Case in point: After struggling to control the flow of the game against FC Dallas early in the season, New York started strong on Thursday night, with Dane Richards holding three fantastic chances to score in just the first 12 minutes of the match.
Although New York would fall behind early, it was Ballouchy who, on the stroke of halftime, would take a fantastic cross from Joel Lindpere and hammer home his fourth goal of the season and his first with the club.
“When you get traded, there are so many emotions,” Ballouchy said. “It felt good to score and get it out of the way.”
Besides his first half goal, he was active in the second half, including a solid rip on FC Dallas goalkeeper Dario Sala.
Overall, Ballouchy's presence helped calm the flow of the Red Bulls’ attack, allowing the side to hold possession against a tough FCD side.
The tie against Dallas, a match where New York played more than 60 minutes up a man, will feel like wasted points for the Red Bulls. But in the long-term, Ballouchy's performance and the flow of the Red Bulls’ attack could be more important to New York than the impact of just dropping two points on the road.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012.