New York Soccer: Rich Balchan

W2W4: NY Red Bulls v. NE Revolution

June, 10, 2011
A dysfunctional duo of Eastern Conference rivals will take the pitch on Friday evening as the New York Red Bulls welcome the New England Revolution to Red Bull Arena.

New York begrudgingly carries a six-game winless streak with them after Columbus Crew defender Rich Balchan finished a Justin Meram cross in stoppage time to steal a 1-1 draw against the home side. Mehdi Ballouchy provided early offense for the Red Bulls with a goal in the 9' minute, but later won the Goat of the Game designation after his errant backheel started the course of events which culminated in Balchan's goal.

If one club can empathize with the Red Bulls' plight, it's New England. The Revs bring a four-game losing streak to Red Bull Arena after conceding a 1-0 defeat to FC Dallas last Saturday at Pizza Hut Park. New England finds itself mired in an ongoing 274-minute scoreless streak and has netted only two goals in their last seven contests.

The Red Bulls' fourth consecutive draw and fifth in six games gives them a 4-2-7 record in 2011, which is good enough for 19 points and a one-point advantage over Columbus for second place in the Eastern Conference. They trail the first-place Philadelphia Union by two points.

Finding Their Fitness. While New York will continue to play without the quintet of players missing for Gold Cup duty, they should be able to lighten their burden on the injury report.

Right back Jan Gunnar Solli described the hamstring injury that forced him to leave last Saturday's match against the Crew as a minor one and believes he should be ready to play on Friday evening. Midfielder Teemu Tainio and defender Carlos Mendes also missed training sessions this week, but each are expected to be available against the Revolution.

Key Matchup: RBNY Back Line vs. Revs' Midfield. With Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez missing due to Cup duties, the Red Bulls have struggled to start attacks from the back line and build up counterattacks. The patchwork line should have ample opportunities to find form against a Revs' midfield that has struggled to provide any service to slumping NE forward Rajko Lekic. That should continue with midfielders Benny Feilhaber out due to an ankle injury and Marko Perovic out for the season after knee surgery.

Job one for the Red Bulls' back line is to perpetuate the mess that is the New England attack. Job two is to take advantage of miscues by the Revs to light a spark for a Red Bulls attack lacking cohesion.

Redemption Song. While Ballouchy curried little favor with fans for his late miscue, he was merely a symptom of a midfield that struggled to take control in the run of play against the Crew last week.

Some of that came about due to Solli's early exit, which effectively muted the right flank for the Red Bulls. That still does not excuse the lack of service to the forwards, who managed only three total shots and one Luke Rodgers shot on target.

Thierry Henry credited midfielder Austin da Luz as the best midfielder for the Red Bulls last week. If that pairing can pick up where the vaunted Red Bulls' diamond midfield left off, it could go a long way to fortifying the Red Bulls' attack during the Gold Cup tournament.

“It was his first game, and I wanted to keep it simple and safe, and I was happy to see him do it for 90 minutes,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said to about da Luz. “But I told him that when he should, he could go forward. His play earns another start.”

Clean Sheet Conga. New England will look to buck their anemic offensive trends that have kept them off the score sheet in six of their last nine matches. Not only will they need to navigate Red Bulls' defense to do it, but they will need to get it past Greg Sutton. The Canadian 'keeper has steered the Red Bulls through their current streak of four consecutive draws while allowing no more than two goals along the way.

Bouna Coundoul also returns from international duty after receiving Man of the Match honors by collecting a clean sheet for his native Senegal following a 0-0 draw against Cameroon in an African Cup of Nations qualifer last weekend. He will likely continue to serve as a backup 'keeper to Sutton.

Road to Ruin. The Revs have struggled mightily on the road this season, with a 0-4-2 away record in 2011 and a -9 goal differential highlighting those troubles. That should help the Red Bulls, who possess a 3-1-3 record at Red Bull Arena this season with a +6 goal differential. Before a 2-0 win at the end of the 2010 season, the Red Bulls endured a 14-game winless streak (0-8-6) to the Revs that stretched back to 2005.

RBNY Recap: Crew steals draw from NY

June, 5, 2011
Give the Red Bulls credit. They invented a new way to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory.

New York's winless streak stretched to six games on Saturday after Crew defender Rich Balchan's stoppage time strike in the 92' minute brought Columbus level in time for a 1-1 draw. The Red Bulls led for most of the game after Mehdi Ballouchy chipped a cross from Luke Rodgers inside the right post in the ninth minute. Rodgers and a healthy Thierry Henry did not find a much-needed insurance goal while leading a depleted Red Bulls roster suffering from Gold Cup duties and injuries.

The club's fourth consecutive draw leaves NY with a 4-2-7 record and two points behind a first-place Philadelphia Union club that also earned a draw on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.

Take the Lead. Ballouchy's goal gave the Red Bulls their first lead in MLS play since conceding a 1-0 lead in the 12' minute of NY's 2-2 draw to the Houston Dynamo on May 21. The Moroccan midfielder's strike also ends a streak of 267 consecutive minutes without the lead.

New York only held the lead twice over any opponent in the month of May by way of a Dane Richards goal against Houston and an early Henry goal against the Galaxy being answered before halftime by Landon Donovan in the first match of the Red Bulls' ongoing winless streak.

Play of the Game: Ballouchy's Bad Touch. If not for a mental mistake by Ballouchy during stoppage time, he likely would have exited Red Bull Arena as Saturday's Man of the Match rather than the Goat of the Game.

Rather than clear the ball from the defensive zone, the Moroccan midfielder chose to provide the touch himself. A sloppy backheel by Ballouchy enabled Crew forward Justin Meram to take possession down the left flank and badly beat rookie defender Matt Kassel before delivering the cross which culminated in Balchan's equalizer.

That said, Ballouchy's gaffe will keep the conversation about the apparent dysfunction displayed on the pitch by NY instead of an ugly win. Players frequently flailed arms in frustration and expressed themselves on the pitch, which later carried over to a tense locker room scene after the match.

"Everyone is fuming in there," Luke Rodgers said to after the match. "There's a lot of arguing."

Understandably so.

Forward Momentum. While the Ballouchy blunder brought the club's troubles back to the surface, it's worth noting that an insurance goal against a rebuilding Columbus side would have gone a long way to calming everyone's nerves.

Henry and Rodgers mustered three shots between them and none on target, while Ballouchy mustered three shots on his own (two on target) and defender Roy Miller adding one shot on target of his own.

Part of that falls on the forwards not bettering the chances for a strong finish. Part of that falls on a midfield that failed to raise the pressure on the Crew and left the forwards without service. All of it culminates with a New York club bearing Supporters' Shield expectations that cannot consistently get behind the back line by land or air.

Right to Ruin. Kassel only entered the match after Norwegian defender Jan Gunnar Solli exited in the 28' minute with what was later described as a hamstring injury. Solli will receive further evaluation on Monday before determining if the injury will add him to the club's litany of players missing in action.

The loss of Solli would only add to the black hole swallowing the Red Bulls' right side while Richards is out of action due to international duty.

A Who's Who of Who? Red Bulls coach Hans Backe tapped midfielder Austin da Luz for his first MLS start along with giving starting nods to defenders Carlos Mendes and Stephen Keel.

Calling the rookie trio into action further depleted Backe's depth, leaving the Red Bulls with Corey Herzog and John Rooney as substitutes after Kassel replaced Solli. (Alex Horwath was the reserve 'keeper.) Backe has indicated that he expects no further roster moves to supplement the club during the Gold Cup, but one wonders if that may change should Solli need to miss significant time.