HARRISON, N.J. – A season that started with modest hopes and expectations ended in disappointment for New York, as they were upset in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the San Jose Earthquakes.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Four things to take from Thursday night’s loss for the Red Bulls:
1. Agudelo Is An Ace – Anyone observing practice the past two months saw Juan Agudelo’s confidence slowly emerge. The teen striker is fearless, makes solid decisions, and is difficult to knock off the ball. Most impressive, though, is his maturity and composure on the dribble.
“I’m lucky it came natural to me, my speed and strength,” Agudelo said. “I just need to work on the other things.”
Next year, between the MLS regular season, US Open Cup, a full slate of friendlies and playing in SuperLiga, Agudelo should get plenty of minutes to grow and develop.
2. Wherefore Art Thou, Henry? – The Red Bulls were unable to count on star striker Thierry Henry for Thursday night after he was injured in practice nearly a month ago.
“We were thinking 20, 25 maximum minutes for him,” head coach Hans Backe said.
With potential overtime looming and the Red Bulls pressing, it is understandable that Backe would want to hold onto Henry for as long as possible to keep the player ready for overtime. Plenty of head scratchers from Backe on Thursday night, but the choice to keep Henry on the sidelines until the 86th minute wasn’t one of them. Don’t bash Backe for this choice.
3. But Feel Free To Do So For These – This loss was a sloppy one, with poor finishing and defensive breakdowns costing the Red Bulls a match they controlled for long stretches. Some of Backe’s choices didn’t help matters, either. Choosing to sit Tony Tchani, a tough physical presence in the center of the midfield, was puzzling. Utilizing the imposing, strong rookie alongside Rafa Márquez would have added some serious bite to the midfield against a San Jose side needing to score.
Then, not using at least two subs earlier in the game rather than in the 86th minute could have changed the game’s flow. The insertion of Jeremy Hall along the backline or in place of the ineffective Mehdi Ballouchy on the left flank could have added some speed to the game.
4. Looking Ahead – Red Bulls fans can look back and wonder “what if” about this season, but it’s far healthier for their stomachs to look ahead. There is a good core in place heading into next year, and with a couple of pieces added, this could be an elite side. Gains were made this season but the Red Bulls management must not over-tinker with the team and make too many far-reaching decisions.
Taking a risk on English striker Luke Rodgers is potentially worth it, but this is a good team that needs a little help all over the field, not total changes. Maybe adding a couple of Americans to the team could help.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012.