New York Soccer: Nick LaBrocca

Did Backe's subs kill MLS All-Star Game chances?

July, 28, 2011
Even with the odds stacked in favor of Manchester United on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe gave the MLS All-Stars a reason to keep their heads held high at halftime.

Despite two moments of individual brilliance by Anderson and All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Park Ji-Sung creating a 2-0 hole for the MLS All-Stars after the first 45 minutes, Backe’s decision to employ a 4-3-3 formation ultimately lent itself well to the star-studded squad. The best of MLS – led by the dynamic designated player duo of Thierry Henry and team captain David Beckham – maintained an edge in possession and created ample scoring chances.

Then a funny thing happened. Backe, who notoriously shies away from making significant substitutions in Red Bulls matches, decided to make his first mass substitution to open the second half. In came Nick LaBrocca, Chris Wondolowski, and Backe’s inclination to let all of the All-Stars get meaningful minutes while out went Henry, Shalrie Joseph, and the touch passing that sparked the MLS attack throughout the first half.

“We could probably have played the same team 15-20 minutes more,” said Backe. “It wouldn’t have made a huge difference in the second half. I could have had a little bit more possession but we picked up two good chances – Omar Bravo had a phenomenal chance to score after a rebound. Normally, you can say that too many subs can kill a game but we decided to do 4 or 5 including the goalie at halftime, two subs after 60 and then after 80. We didn’t kill the game with that.”

But they did. Manchester United, who kept their starting XI intact for the first 15 minutes of the second half, took advantage of the change in MLS personnel and the lack of cohesion that came with it. The Red Devils completed twice as many passes as the MLS All-Stars in the period prior to Dimitar Berbatov’s dagger in the 52nd minute while the MLS All-Stars struggled to establish its offensive momentum and basically resorted to lobbing long balls into the attacking third to no avail.

Backe had already stated at Monday’s press conference that he intended to give all of the All-Stars meaningful minutes at some point in the match, acquiescing to the American spirit of letting all of the fans see their stars play on one of MLS’s biggest stages – competitive match be damned.

Still, the best of MLS showed an organic cohesion in the first 45 minutes that few expected, considering the truncated practice schedule afforded to Backe to establish a form worthy of the lofty expectations of kicking off against Manchester United.

“The last time I played in the MLS All-Star Game, the team came together,” said Beckham. “We played well. You clicked. I think, especially in the first half, showed that if you’re a good enough player, you can just come together and you just play. We didn’t have enough time together, but that’s the way it is. That’s part of being the All-Star team.”

Does it have to be that way? Couldn’t Backe have eased in his substitutes to let each player acclimate to the run of play rather than throwing back-ups to the wolves every 20 minutes?

Ultimately, Backe was right in that keeping the starters on an extra 15-20 minutes would not have changed the final score. A comeback win against the defending English Premier League champions seemed unlikely from the outset and doubly so after Park’s goal before halftime, but the opportunity for the MLS All-Stars to tally a goal and save face against one of the best clubs in the world felt just as inevitable.

Soccer fans around the world woke up this morning to the box score that Manchester United defeated Beckham’s and Henry’s merry band of MLS All-Stars handily, which is what everyone expected and surprised no one. MLS gains a bit of notoriety from the match, which is negated by seeing the league’s best receive a drubbing from the Red Devils. The match only makes waves in the global soccer scene if MLS wins, but it's probably wise to not try to dig for any deeper meanings from what is ultimately an exhibition match.

The final result was predictable, but it didn’t have to end the way it did.

Backe could have substituted a better finish.

Chivas USA's LaBrocca gives MLS All-Star Game an NJ flavor

July, 27, 2011
The best of MLS need little prodding to step into the spotlight of the 2011 MLS All-Star Game (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3), but it was the location of that spotlight which enticed Chivas USA midfielder Nick LaBrocca the most.

For the Howell, N.J. native and former Rutgers standout, representing Major League Soccer on a stage against English Premier League titans Manchester United elevates to the next level as it will occur just an hour's drive from his hometown.

“As soon as I heard, I was really excited about it,” said LaBrocca. “I’ve spent my entire life playing there, and now I get an extra game back home. Not only do I represent myself and my family, but I get to represent my teammates, my fans and the league as a whole both on and off the field.”

LaBrocca’s All-Star selection adds an exclamation point to a season that has seen the Goats midfielder play all but two minutes of the club’s 21 games this season while contributing an already career-high six goals to the Chivas offensive efforts – despite never previously scoring more than two goals a season and netting only 10 in four years at Rutgers.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe confirmed the selection of LaBrocca, also a three-time All-Big East selection, shortly after the fans recognized the MLS All-Star First XI, but Chivas coach Robin Fraser concedes that he has kept tabs on his star midfielder – who arrived via trade with Toronto FC prior to the 2011 season – for quite some time.

“He’s a player that I’ve tracked for a while,” said Fraser. “I really envisioned him as someone who could be a great attacking midfielder. He’s got a great soccer brain, very good first touch, a really good idea as a good finisher. So far, he’s lived up to what we expected.”

For Fraser, LaBrocca’s All-Star nod reinforces what the first-year Chivas coach is trying to implement for the Los Angeles-based club. Seeing LaBrocca depart along with Chivas teammate and two-time MLS All-Star Heath Pearce further recognizes the team-first mentality being implemented by their coach.

“We are trying to create a very close-knit group that is very much about a team going forward together,” said Fraser. “Together, (LaBrocca and Pearce) have helped grow this team and a lot of it has to do with the performances of both of them. It’s only fitting that they both get the opportunity.”

That opportunity also cements a proud New Jersey soccer tradition, which can now boast LaBrocca’s recent success. For the guy who sprung his soccer career from Exit 7A on the New Jersey Turnpike (or Exit 98 on the Garden State Parkway, depending on your itinerary), LaBrocca readily admits to the boost that the Garden State influence has given his good form.

“There’s such great talent and competition throughout the entire state where you play so many games,” said LaBrocca. “Every day is competitive which definitely helps you grow and push your limits. With that comes great coaches. Whenever you see great talent like that, you see great coaches.”

Backe picks Red Bulls trio as MLS All-Stars

July, 18, 2011
Hans Backe will have some familiar faces at his disposal as he prepares for the national spotlight.

The Red Bulls coach picked Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo, and Tim Ream to play among the 22 players who will represent the best of MLS against English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United in the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena next week. Backe, who was named MLS All-Stars head coach in June, finalized his selections for the star-studded squad on Monday.

Unlike other American sports leagues that tap their own All-Stars in recognition of their in-season contributions, Backe's selections reflect an emphasis on fielding a competitive squad against a ManU side that claimed a decisive 5-2 win over the MLS All-Stars in the 2010 edition at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Henry and Ream, along with Red Bulls defender Rafael Marquez, were originally selected by the fans in the All-Star First XI vote earlier this month which guaranteed their place among the All-Star squad but not necessarily a starting role or even playing time. Backe already confirmed last week that Marquez will miss the festivities as he recovers from a groin injury.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber previously designated Agudelo as one of the game's two Commissioner Picks last Saturday. However, Backe has final say on who will be on the pitch to kick off against ManU.

Among Backe's other notable picks include Los Angeles Galaxy midfielders David Beckham, who will face his former EPL side, and Landon Donovan, Chivas USA midfielder and New Jersey native Nick LaBrocca, and San Jose Earthquakes forward and 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski.

The 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game will take place at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, July 27. First kick is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

The final roster is below:

Goalkeeper: Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Faryd Mondragón (Philadelphia Union)

Defenders: Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Bobby Convey (San Jose Earthquakes), Sean Franklin (LA Galaxy), Jámison Olave (Real Salt Lake), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls).

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), David Beckham (LA Galaxy), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Jack Jewsbury (Portland Timbers), Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution), Nick LaBrocca (Chivas USA)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Omar Bravo (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Inactive All-Stars*: Kasey Keller (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Rafa Márquez (New York Red Bulls), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)

*Inactive All-Stars will be replaced via player voting at a later date.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Chivas USA

July, 16, 2011
The Red Bulls will call upon German goalkeeper Frank Rost to stop the club's struggles as New York heads west to face Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center on Saturday.

New York's newly-acquired Bundesliga veteran is expected to mind the net for a Red Bulls side that fell to longtime rival D.C. United last Saturday with a 1-0 loss in which exiled midfielder Dwayne De Rosario burned the man he was traded for, Dax McCarty, en route to scoring the game's only goal.

Chivas USA will look to put the wind back in their sails after Sporting KC forward Omar Bravo converted a Hail Mary medley of headers in stoppage time to steal a 1-1 draw at Livestrong Sporting Park last Saturday. However, the Goats carry the goodwill of a May 15 win at Red Bull Arena in which Chivas forward Justin Braun netted his first career hat trick.

New York (6-4-10, 28 pts) finds itself entangled in a first-place tie atop the Eastern Conference after the Philadelphia Union (7-4-7, 28 pts) collected a point in a scoreless draw at San Jose last Saturday.

Frost's Fast Fix. Rost's arrival may spell the end of Greg Sutton's or Bouna Coundoul's tenure with the team, but the Red Bulls did not sign their third designated player to practice addition by subtraction.

Despite not practicing with his new club for the first time until midway through Friday's practice as he finalized his visa and international transfer clearance, the former Hamburg 'keeper, whose acquisition Red Bulls GM Erik Solér described to on Friday as "the Big One," will be expected to find his form quickly and erase any lingering memories of Bouna blunders or Sutton stasis. Rost's arrival suspends the club's goalkeeper debate. His performance will determine the length of that suspension.

Key Matchup: NY's Holding Midfield vs. Chivas USA's Front Four. Braun will adorn the headlines heading into Saturday's match for his trio of goals at Red Bull Arena, but Chivas midfielder Nick LaBrocca will attract just as much attention from New York's defensive efforts. LaBrocca has scored a goal in each of the Goats' past three games and has demonstrated a productive form that's earning him All-Star consideration.

A quick glance at the Goats' recent Opta Chalkboards reflects how the Chivas attack applies sufficient pressure to provoke opposing defenses to squeeze passes into traffic -- only to have said passes be intercepted by the Chivas midfield. Chivas recovered more balls then Chicago and San Jose in the middle and final thirds, while Sporting KC withstood the pressure by sufficiently pressing back.

That's where McCarty and Teemu Tainio come in. Any pressing back by New York will require a firm midfield to help with transitions and keep the likes of Braun and LaBrocca without service. When Chivas decides to push up, it's on McCarty and Tainio to hold firm.

Forward Footing. New York should have Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, and Juan Agudelo at its disposal against Chivas and will rely heavily on the trio to stretch out the Goats' compact defense. Rodgers and Henry rained eight shots on the DC net last Saturday, but only one by Henry ended up on target.

The Chivas center back duo of Heath Pearce and Michael Umana have a better defensive reputation than DC's back line and can disrupt the Red Bull forwards if there isn't sufficient service -- especially if Henry keeps coming back into the midfield to get the ball as he has in recent weeks.

Two. That's how many of the 18 games Chivas have played this season in which they finished with more than a one-goal differential -- win or lose. A 2-0 win over San Jose on July 6 and 3-0 win over the New England Revolution on April 30 represent the only times in which the Goats experienced distance from their opponents on the scoreboard. Which makes it that much more important for New York to play...

The Full 90. Much has been made of New York's many missed opportunities this season with 10 draws to their record, but Chivas is one club that will not poke fun at that futility. The Goats have conceded points in the standings in three of their last five matches by surrendering goals after the 80th minute of play.