New York Soccer: George John

RBNY Recap: Cynical soccer leaves Red Bulls sitting pretty after FCD win

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
10:56
AM ET

Cynical soccer, as Red Bulls coach Hans Backe describes it, isn’t supposed to be pretty.

During the majority of the Red Bulls’ 2-0 wild card victory over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Wednesday night, Backe’s description was apt. New York rarely controlled the run of play for meaningful stretches and generally stuck to game plan of withstanding the FCD pressure and obstructing every pass and cross that could feed the opposing attack.

Still, a game plan executed to perfection can still create soccer worth seeing – just as it did in the 61st minute by way of a Joel Lindpere go-ahead goal. FCD ‘keeper Kevin Hartman parried a Lindpere shot wide and towards Dane Richards, who smartly backheeled the ball parallel to the penalty area up to Mehdi Ballouchy. Ballouchy, who had entered the match only moments earlier for his first meaningful MLS action since mid-September, took care of the rest.

“Dane got the ball up high on the right and I was yelling right behind him ‘Play me back the ball’ and I decided (to pass low) instead of crossing, because I think most fullbacks are expecting the block off of the cross but forget about the pass on the ground,” said Ballouchy. “The back four stepped up and opened up Joel and he was able to finish. We were fortunate to get the first goal against the run of play.”

It came about quickly and came together perfectly, with Lindpere crediting the Morocccan midfielder in creating the Red Bulls’ best scoring chance of the game.

“Mehdi gave me a great ball,” said Lindpere. “I was timing my run very perfectly and maybe I didn’t hit (it) so hard but it was difficult to reach for the goalie.”

Thierry Henry’s stoppage-time strike lacked the suave of Lindpere’s goal, but the Red Bulls team captain finished that ball following 90-plus minutes of keeping FCD midfielder Daniel Hernandez in check. Henry was charged with keeping Hernandez out of the picture on the FCD offensive end, with Backe admitting that the Red Bulls’ game plan hinged on his French striker’s results.

“We said before the game was the key has to be to close down Hernandez’s distribution,” said Backe. “We put Thierry on him and set with the back four and midfield just to cover the space for the pace guys in Dallas, the front three guys, and give them as little space as possible in closing down Hernandez. That worked quite well, because (Igo) Ihemelu or (George) John has to drive out and had to do the distribution. They went wide sometimes, but we were solid in the middle.”

That solid performance left New York standing at the final whistle with a two-goal victory and two games against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference bracket now added to the schedule. It wasn’t always pretty and it wasn’t always telegenic.

But, as Backe sees it, that just wouldn’t be the Red Bulls’ cynical style these days.

“We have played decent football,” said Backe. “I think we’re at the right time. Perhaps close to our peak.”

Empty Net. New York now has four wins in their past six matches between the regular season and postseason, with ‘keeper Frank Rost playing a prominent role in each victory. The German shot stopper has accrued clean sheets in each of the club’s last five wins dating back to New York’s prior visit to Pizza Hut Park in September. While he certainly played a role in keeping opposing offenses out of the New York net, Rost acknowledges that his side’s seeming ability to score often makes his job a little easier.

“We shoot a goal in every match if we get no goal,” said Rost. “Maybe the players have this now in the blood.”

Game of Chance. FCD created twice as many scoring chances as the Red Bulls on Wednesday, but never quite cracked the combination that would make the Red Bulls back line sweat. The numbers paint a picture favoring the Dallas attack, but Backe didn’t feel the pressure outside of a first-half header by Jackson that went for naught.

“I don’t think it was that many chances,” said Backe. “It had one good header or close, but otherwise, I can’t really find a free run or a 100-percent scoring chance. Some half chances, but not the really big one.”

Looking Ahead. Now that New York has dispatched of the 2010 MLS Cup runners-up in the do-or-die wild card round, they can focus their efforts on preparing for their home-and-home semifinal series against the Supporters Shield winners in Los Angeles.

Henry recognizes that the path through the Galaxy won’t be easy, but admits that his side’s form will prepare them better than any self-esteem derived from their recent success.

“The confidence level doesn’t mean anything in the playoffs,” said Henry. “We know it won’t be easy, but don’t get me wrong -- We are in a better situation now the way we are playing, mentally. The team is much stronger because we’re playing as a team. Everyone’s going to say LA against the Red Bulls is going to be a big game, but they are the favorites. So we’ll try to cause an upset.”

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at FC Dallas

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
11:36
AM ET

The 2011 MLS Playoffs kick off in earnest on Wednesday evening as FC Dallas play host to the Red Bulls at Pizza Hut Park in a wild card clash that will end one club's postseason path courtesy of the round's one-and-done format.

For a Red Bulls side picked by many in the preseason to win MLS Cup outright, that's a welcome problem to have after needing all 34 regular season contests to earn the right to play tonight. They still can't sing their redemption song until FC Dallas has its say as the home side looks to better a 2010 MLS Cup runners-up finish.

However, one Red Bulls player who will have no say in Wednesday's result is English striker Luke Rodgers. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe confirmed on Tuesday that Rodgers would miss Wednesday's match due to treatment of a knee injury incurred during the club's regular season finale win against the Philadelphia Union last Thursday.

New York came out on top of their regular season confrontations against FCD in 2011. A late Thierry Henry equalizer answered a second-half brace by Martin Chavez and salvaged a 2-2 draw against FCD at Red Bull Arena on July 25, while Rodgers provided all of the offense in a 1-0 win at Pizza Hut Park on Sept. 17 that reignited the Red Bulls' late playoff push.

Luke Out. The Red Bulls will undoubtedly miss their freshman forward, especially considering the club is 1-9-4 in matches without the pesky Rodgers in the starting XI -- with the sole win coming against the Seattle Sounders during MLS First Kick festivities back on March 19. They also posted a 4-2-1 record down the stretch following Rodgers' return from a bout with plantar fasciitis that kept their English striker on the shelf for most of the summer.

Rodgers undoubtedly unlocked the Red Bulls' inconsistent attack with his presence up top and his pressure against opposing back lines, just as he did in scoring the game's only goal against FC Dallas in September. But he did the dirty work in that match despite the club missing Henry and Roy Miller due to injury as well as Jan Gunnar Solli and Rafael Marquez due to suspensions. New York may lack the guy who finished off FCD, but they will have four capable contributors this time to pick up the slack.

Key Matchup: Shea vs. McCarty. Another key player to miss that September match was FCD winger and team-leading scorer Brek Shea, who also served a one-game suspension on that date due to yellow card accumulation. The young Shea, who netted 11 goals in 31 appearances in 2011, experienced a breakout season drawing league MVP considerations in addition to rave reviews regarding his contributions to the U.S. Men's National Team.

Shea will appear in FCD coach Schellas Hyndman's starting lineup, and Backe will likely counter with Shea's former teammate in defensive midfielder Dax McCarty. McCarty will likely be charged with shutting down any activity by Shea on the right flank, as Solli tends to push up in an offensive-minded role from his right fullback position while regular right midfielder Dane Richards likely starts up top in place of the injured Rodgers.

That leaves McCarty, a player suspended by the club in the Red Bulls' penultimate match at Sporting Kansas City for an "internal team matter" as well as one who has seen his playing time diminish in concert with Marquez's return to a defensive midfielder role. Add in the burden of being the player New York received from D.C. United in exchange for 2011 Golden Boot winner Dwayne De Rosario and the expectations thrust on McCarty could not be higher.

But hey, no pressure.

Make It Stop. New York captured a 1-0 victory against FC Dallas in September, but it wasn't for lack of trying on the former's part. FCD created more than double New York's chances on net in that match, with seven of their 18 attempts registering as a shot on target as compared to only two of New York's seven attempts.

That onslaught came about without Shea, Chavez (also suspended for yellow card accumulation) and injured midfielder David Ferreira. It also came in a busy stretch for FCD that came about due to CONCACAF Champions League commitments as well as with a melancholy mood following the death of club dignitary Bobby Rhine. New York escaped that match with a win, but will need stronger defensive contributions from Tim Ream, Stephen Keel, and others to prevent FCD from implementing a similar style.

Press On. With an FCD back line including effective contributions from George John, Zach Loyd, and others, Hyndman will likely call upon the defensive press he used to paralyze the Red Bulls attack in both regular season matches. If Marquez and Teemu Tainio can't link up to the forwards or Joel Lindpere struggles to join the attack on the left side, FCD could once again impose its defensive will on the Red Bulls and bide its time until a scoring chance presents itself.

Get Your Kicks. Tonight's match is a winner-take-all affair, which means New York can't sneak out with one of its patented draws this time around. In the event that the score is tied at the end of regulation, two 15-minute periods of extra time would ensue to determine a winner. And if that fails to yield a result, the game would then advance to a penalty shootout.

New York hasn't converted a penalty kick since Sept. 24 against the Portland Timbers -- and Rodgers netted that one. Backe reportedly did not practice penalty kicks before his players boarded the plane for Dallas on Tuesday, while the club's uncertainty on their primary free kick taker never really resolved itself. Anything could happen in a penalty shootout, including the order which Backe picks for his side's participation.

RBNY Recap: Rost saves Red Bulls' playoff chances in win over FC Dallas

September, 18, 2011
9/18/11
11:05
AM ET
New York finally rekindled its winning ways courtesy of a little R&R.

R&R, in this case, refers to contributions of Luke Rodgers and Frank Rost which boosted the Red Bulls to the club's first victory since July 6 in a 1-0 win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. The international duo made their first starts since recovering from their respective injuries -- Rodgers with plantar fascitis, Rost with a right quadriceps tear -- and played key roles in the result, with the English striker finishing a Juan Agudelo cross in the 36th minute for the game's only goal and the German shot stopper collecting a clean sheet for his first win in MLS.

In addition to a morale boost, the three points from their long-awaited win over FCD also gives the Red Bulls (7-6-15, 36 pts) an immediate boost back into the playoff picture. According to MLSsoccer.com's playoff standings, New York reclaimed control of the final wild card berth as their +5 goal differential gives them the playoff tiebreaker over the Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts). D.C. United (8-8-10, 34 pts), who previously held the final berth prior to the start of action in Week 27 and has two games in hand on the Red Bulls, conceded a 3-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

The Red Bulls also kept pace in their pursuit for an Eastern Conference automatic playoff berth, as both the third-place Philadelphia Union (9-7-12, 39 pts) and fourth-place Houston Dynamo (9-9-12, 39 pts) collected wins on Saturday as well.

Give It a Go. New York knew of their shorthanded status before they boarded their Dallas charter plane on Friday. Rafael Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli would not join them as they served one-game suspensions. Thierry Henry and Roy Miller also stayed home as they nursed injuries.

However, four questionable players who made the trip produced answers for the Red Bulls on Saturday night. The return of Rodgers and Rost directly factored into the result, while Tim Ream's recovery from his injury and Teemu Tainio's return from a one-game suspension helped stablize a patchwork defense charged with keeping a beleaguered FC Dallas side -- FCD winger Brek Shea was suspended, David Ferreira and Martin Chavez were hurt -- at bay.

Play of the Game: Rost's Saves on Santos. It's not hard for the Red Bulls to knock their opponents down, as they've taken early leads against MLS sides all season. When Rodgers collected Agudelo's cross and hit a grounder inside the far post past a diving George John and a helpless Kevin Hartman in net, it wasn't pretty but it was never beyond the realm of possibility.

Instead, it's getting opposing teams to stay down that's the trick. Rost, who made his first start since August 6 over a recently-effective Bouna Coundoul, made that happen with his best performance as a Red Bull, as he kept a clean sheet against an FC Dallas side that controlled the run of play for huge swaths of Saturday's match. FC Dallas accrued 19 attempts on goal as compared to New York's six, but only generated three shots on target for their efforts. FCD forward Maicon Santos created a team-leading eight attempts against a Red Bulls back line that appeared porous at times, but Rost saved Santos's only shot on target while his positioning helped cut down angles and force the Brazilian's shots wide of the net.

A solid defensive effort kept FCD off the scoreboard, but Rost eliminated any chance for a soft goal from stealing Rodgers's thunder.

Moroccan Meddling. Unlike last Saturday when Red Bulls coach Hans Backe sent his shorthanded side's attack into overdrive with a late Agudelo substitution, he did the exact opposite with a swap of Rodgers for Mehdi Ballouchy at halftime. The Moroccan midfielder's arrival effectively sent the Red Bulls into defensive mode, as evidenced by FCD's early attacking surge tapering off in the second half.

As previously mentioned, New York only created six attempts on Saturday night. Five of those came before halftime, with only a Joel Lindpere miss at point-blank range in the 64th minute to show for their efforts. Meanwhile, Ballouchy added nothing to the Red Bulls attack while his role up top muted any passing distribution he can typically bring to any match. It was a risky call by Backe to protect his recovering English forward at the expense of any chance at creating an insurance goal, but ultimately paid off through the efforts of New York's back line and Rost.

205. According to the Opta Chalkboards, that's how many passes New York completed on Saturday at Pizza Hut Park. That's far and away the lowest number of completed passes this season for a Red Bulls side that typically accrues 350-400 completed passes with ease. It's also over 100 fewer than the previous low of 308 completed passes accrued in a 2-2 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes on July 2. So if you're curious as to why FC Dallas claimed a 59.5%-to-40.5% advantage in possession on Saturday night, start here.

Slump Buster. New York's win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park gives the Red Bulls their first win outside the Eastern time zone in regular season play in almost a year. New York is now 1-2-8 in games west of Ohio, and have one more match -- October 15 at Sporting Kansas City -- of their final six that will require them to wind their watches upon arrival.

New York now heads home to Red Bull Arena looking to exact revenge on Wednesday against a Real Salt Lake side that delivered a decisive 3-0 win to the Red Bulls in the first leg of their regular season encounters on August 6 at Rio Tinto Stadium. First kick is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.

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