UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Juan Pablo Angel, role player?
Red Bulls fans were no doubt shocked last Thursday before their team's game at FC Dallas when news flashed across the TV screen before kickoff that Ángel, arguably the most polished and prolific scorer in franchise history, was relegated to the bench.
In his place was midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, who was acquired by New York early last week in a trade that sent Macoumba Kandji to Colorado.
Ballouchy started and played the full 90 minutes in the match, with Ángel entering the game as a sub in the second half. The Colombian star did help set up New York’s equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw, an own-goal by FC Dallas where he applied the pressure.
But the move had reasoning behind it. Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said the lineup change was designed to increase the team’s passing and possession game, and not a slight on Ángel, who is going through a mini-scoring drought.
Backe said he was pleased with the way his team responded with Ballouchy on the field, even with central playmaker being used up top in a more withdrawn role rather than playing centrally in the midfield. But will he continue to take minutes away from Ángel?
The last time the former Colombian international scored in league play was nearly a month ago when the Red Bulls held a man advantage for much of the match in a 4-1 win over Toronto. Since then, Ángel has struggled at times and appeared frustrated with his inability to place chances on goal.
Ballouchy, who also scored against FC Dallas, has primarily been used as a creative midfielder throughout his MLS career. Backe thinks he can add a dimension to the team by playing centrally, but also sees a bright and exciting future for the player up top.
“We could play with two strikers, with [Thierry] Henry and Juan Pablo up top,” Backe told MLSsoccer.com. “Then with Ballouchy behind, that is also a possibility.”
Earlier this year, Backe stated that he could stray from his typical 4-4-2 formation for certain key road matches, adding another player to the midfield and going with a lone forward up top.
Ballouchy might give the team this kind of versatility for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. Backe was uncommitted as to Ángel’s place in the starting XI for the rest of the season, but was impressed with his latest addition.
“I think that [Ballouchy] is a very talented and exciting player in holding the ball and creating possession for us,” Backe said. “He got our passing game going and we moved the ball, I have to say, very, very well. It made us a more unpredictable side in a way, because of the way we could move the ball.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012