HARRISON, N.J. – They may have registered a 1-0 season-opening victory over the Seattle Sounders on the heels of a spectacular goal by forward Juan Agudelo. But as can be expected this early in the season, for the New York Red Bulls, there is work to be done.
Even with three good chances from Thierry Henry, including a penalty kick in the ninth minute by the former French international that was saved by Seattle’s Kasey Keller, the Red Bulls struggled in the offensive third and looked tentative and out of sync.
It's an area of their game the Red Bulls are seeking to improve on in 2011: translating their dominant possession game into more goals.
“If you compare to last season, we had a lot of games where we were up 1-0,” Backe said after the match. “It looked the same as last season – a lot of possession but couldn’t finish our chances.”
There was a bright spot amid the déjà vu: Agudelo.
In a 71st-minute moment of brilliance, deep-lying midfielder Teemu Tainio’s ball over the top of the Seattle defense fell into the path of Agudelo for the game’s only score. The 18-year-old, who stepped into the role vacated by designated player Juan Pablo Angel who was not retained by the club this offseason, was the most dangerous threat for New York all night long.
“We should have been cleaner in the final third,” midfielder Dane Richards told MLSsoccer.com. "We had chances but didn’t take advantage of them. We need to be composed in the box and we have to play faster, move the ball quicker.”
The Jamaican international had four shots in the game but just one on goal. The offensive struggles haunted the team last year, even with the addition of Henry in midseason, and it was a constant theme as the team prepared for the 2011 season.
During the team’s winter jaunts to Mexico, Florida and Arizona, the Red Bulls scored 14 times in nine preseason games – a sobering stat considering nearly half the matches were against lower-division sides or Mexican reserves. With a player like Henry and a savvy, veteran midfield, the Red Bulls should be capable in pushing forward more effectively.
“I did feel like we controlled the game and didn’t get dragged into too much the way Seattle plays,” right back Jan Gunnar Solli said. “We can be a little more precise in the final third of the park, [then] we’ll have big chances.”
Those “big chances” were not many on Saturday night for New York and Backe, now in his second year with the club. Midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy was effectively posted up by Seattle’s defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and the Red Bulls No. 10 rarely had the chance to turn his back from goal. On the right wing Richards, who carried much of the scoring load late last summer for the club, was limited in his effectiveness. And then Henry, who suffered a left hamstring injury in the match, was ineffective at best.
The Red Bulls tallied 21 shots in the match but just seven of which were on goal.
“We didn’t create that many great chances,” Tainio said. “Of course, it is the first game of the season, you have to remember that. It’s the early days so when guys get to know each other and play more games, I think it will come more easily.”
The Red Bulls and Backe can only hope as much.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer