As New York prepares for their rematch at F.C. Dallas this weekend, they do so without Jan Gunnar Solli in their plans.
Red Bulls coach Hans Backe did not draw it up that way, as a straight red card issued by referee Terry Vaughn in last Saturday's 1-1 draw against Vancouver made Solli's absence necessary. Vaughn, a 24-year veteran referee with full FIFA international accreditation since 2004, issued the red for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity after seeing Solli tumble over 'Caps forward Camilo on the rush.
Unfortunately for Backe, U.S. Soccer referee Michael Kennedy would not have corroborated Vaughn's call. At the U.S. Soccer Referee Week in Review blog, Kennedy reviewed the play that ended Solli's night prematurely and questions the validity of Vaughn's call:
In order to send off a player for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, one of the criteria that must be met is that there is only one other defender present between the foul and the goal, not including the player who commits the foul. In this case, there are two: the supporting defender in the area, as well as the goalkeeper behind them. Therefore, the defender committing the foul should only have been cautioned for a tactical foul.
Kennedy's comments do not represent the official position of U.S. Soccer, but they do add gravitas to a dialogue about refereeing that typically degrades into a he-said, he-said argument without an official stepping in. Besides, Backe had already come to the same conclusion prior to Kennedy's assessment being published on Wednesday.
“It is not a red card," Backe said to MLSsoccer.com. "First of all, it has to be a clear goal-scoring opportunity to get a red card – Carlos Mendes is behind and Solli is shoulder to shoulder. It’s too far out to be an obvious goal-scoring opportunity; of course it’s not a red card.”
Solli added precious depth to Backe's beleaguered roster, as the Norwegian winger had just returned from a right quadriceps strain that forced him out of the club's prior two matches. With suspensions to Solli and Rafael Marquez forcing them to join Roy Miller and possibly Frank Rost on the sidelines as the latter pair nurse injuries, Backe needs to spin his roster carousel once again to produce a patchwork 11 against the third-best club by points in MLS.
Score one for the skeptics, though. The eyes of Red Bulls supporters had not deceived them on the play that sent Solli to the showers.
Cynical Coverage. Speaking of skepticism, Backe indicated earlier this week that he wants to see more of it out of his back line going forward. He pleads for the reality check to wake up a back four whose injury woes and mental lapses have all but negated any defensive pressure on opposing attackers.
“We’re giving away too many unforced errors," Backe said to the New York Post. "We get breaks against us too much. At the end of the day, a team will score. You just have to defend, defend when you give it away in the middle of the park. (You make) those unforced errors, so you just drop deeper and deeper, and you will get one chance against you and a goal. We just need to play a little bit more cynical, both ways.’’
Irish writer Oscar Wilde defined the cynic in his play Lady Windermere's Fan as “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Red Bulls supporters know all too well the price being paid to elevate the New York side into the MLS elite. They have to hope that Backe's defenders will ignore their coach's cynical ploys and find value in picking up their play, or risk being left with nothing but failed expectations come playoff time.
Price Tag. New York does not appear to be aiming for any significant roster moves before today's roster freeze deadline kicks in at 5 p.m. ET.
Of course, that won't stop the club from boosting its coffers. The Red Bulls released their season ticket renewal forms earlier this week, which, according to Vipers' Nest blogger Dan Dickinson, raised ticket prices in the lower bowl of Red Bull Arena while lowering them in the upper bowl. As Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl recounted a friend's claim about exhorbitant boosts in the costs of season tickets, the club's official Twitter account explained that the costs changes ultimately added up in the fans' favor.
"71% of seats at RBA decreased price or remained the same for 2012. Average ST increase is 1%, providing affordable options," said a Red Bulls official via the club's official Twitter account.
Prices go up for every professional sports team, but the trouble is in the timing. Season tickets subscribers must renew their plans and pay in full by September 30 to keep their seat and all rights and privileges afforded to it, which falls three weeks before the end of an MLS regular season that may not see the Red Bulls clinch a playoff spot.
The seats are still very affordable by North American professional sports standards, but what's the rush in collecting for 2012?