Coulda … woulda … shoulda … The Red Bulls had a chance to claim the Eastern Conference title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win on Saturday, but instead they dropped a 2-1 result to Philadelphia.
WATCH: Full match highlights
Here are four things to take from the match:
1. Is 4-4-1-1 a dud?
Since the Red Bulls traded for Mehdi Ballouchy more than a month ago, head coach Hans Backe has been seemingly enthralled with the idea of playing Ballouchy as a withdrawn forward.
As a midfielder, Ballouchy has been a revelation for the Red Bulls, providing deft passing and a real offensive spark, but the formation that places him as a withdrawn forward doesn’t seem to be working. The alignment leaves the target striker without any support up top — and if Ballouchy moves to a higher position, the midfield seems lost without his ability to hold the ball and create.
After a rocky start, the Red Bulls looked far more dynamic when they inserted forward Salou Ibrahim alongside Juan Pablo Angel, dropping Ballouchy into the midfield where he belongs.
2. Farewell, Salou?
He came close to scoring in the second half, coming into a chippy match to play an effective 45 minutes. But despite the showing, it is becoming clear that Ibrahim likely will not be in this team’s plans next year.
He’s not a threat off the bench in a true second-half sub sort of way, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to keep him on a team that has Thierry Henry and the rapidly improving youngster Juan Agudelo. Salou, however, has proven he can play in this league, and any team needing a powerful striker would do well to deal for him.
3. Ángel talks
Last week Ángel twice made headlines, stating first that there was little future for him with at New York next year and then upping the ante, saying he knows he won’t return in 2011 “for a fact.”
But on Saturday afternoon, with his team down 2-0, he made a different statement. Gathering his teammates around him moments before the second-half whistle, Ángel seemed to speak emphatically for the team to come out charging.
Whatever he said worked as the Red Bulls scored a goal in the half’s opening 10 minutes after a listless first 45 minutes. Any talk about whether Ángel has packed it in are pure bunk as this guy wants to leave the club a winner.
4. No Henry
Once again the Red Bulls were without their marquee player, who was out after picking up a knee knock in training. Henry has missed several games and scored just two goals since signing in mid-July.
Both Backe and Henry have said the striker will improve next year after getting a full preseason under his belt, but given the injury and recent form struggles, was Henry eased into the lineup in the right way to begin with?
The striker made his MLS debut in mid-July after two friendly matches in which he played a half in each match, and in his first league game against Houston, he went the full 90 minutes.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012