New York Soccer: US Soccer

USMNT Recap: Klinsmann can't christen Red Bull Arena with a win over Ecuador

October, 12, 2011
The United States went into Jersey with momentum and out with a whimper.

The Stars and Stripes failed to build on Jurgen Klinsmann's first win as head coach as Ecuador claimed a 1-0 win over the U.S. Men's National Team in an international friendly at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday evening. Poor positioning by the arena's native son, Tim Ream, left Ecuadorian forward Jaime Ayoví clear to head home the match's only goal past a helpless Tim Howard in the 79th minute.

Chances came fast and furious for the US as they created five shots on target from 18 attempts on goal, including a flurry of shots in the first seven minutes that culminated with a Tim Chandler shot from the corner of the penalty box as well as DeMarcus Beasley's strike from distance in the 68th minute that landed perfectly in Ecuador 'keeper Maximo Banguera's midsection.

Another loss for the Yanks leaves Klinsmann with only one win in his five matches since replacing former coach Bob Bradley last summer. The U.S. have only two goals to show for that five-game effort, one of which came from the foot of Clint Dempsey in their win over Honduras at SunLife Stadium in Miami last Saturday.

Hot Hand. Even though he came on as a substitute in the 60th minute, the Yanks knew better than to let Jaime Ayovi run free. Ayovi, cousin of Ecuador team captain Walter Ayovi, opened the scoring for Ecuador in the 14th minute in a 2-0 win over Venezuela during South American World Cup qualifers last Friday.

Play of the Game: Ream's Gaffe. Ream, the young center back for the namesake club of the Yanks' home field on Tuesday, had waited a long time to redeem himself after his sloppy trip on Panama striker Blas Perez during the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June left him in the national doghouse. He's had to endure a coaching change and a public criticism of his form at the club level by Red Bulls teammate Rafael Marquez before finally getting a chance to make amends for his only transgression on the international stage.

Unfortunately for Ream, he'll need to wait a bit longer.

Klinsmann brought Ream on as a substitute in the 72nd minute for Yanks team captain and back line stalwart Carlos Bocanegra, only to see that decision be punished seven minutes later. Ream let Ayovi get a step ahead of him in the box as the Pachuca forward converted a cross from cousin Walter to head home what was far and away Ecuador's best (and some might argue only) scoring chance of the night.

“I was watching the man, and as I looked back I saw the ball coming," said Ream. "He was past me as soon as I took a step.”

To Ream's credit, Klinsmann picked up where Bradley left off by inviting the 24-year-old defender into the international camps even if it hasn't affected the depth charts. If Ream is going to develop his form for the international stages, the U.S. coach admits feeling comfortable with giving his young defender the necessary experience.

"It's a learning moment for Tim Ream, that he has to be in front of that guy and unbalance him," said Klinsmann. "Tim needs these moments and he needs these minutes on this level in order to learn. There's nothing bad about it."

Don't Mess With Texas. Even though the US didn't crack the score sheet, it wasn't for lack of trying on the part of Clint Dempsey. The Fulham midfielder and Texas native provided the spark for the Yanks' attack with prescient passing and a team-leading five shot attempts. His playmaking ability covered up for the absence of Landon Donovan and elevated his performance over his attacking partner in Jozy Altidore as well as second-half substitutes Juan Agudelo and Edson Buddle.

“I always put pressure on myself to perform," said Dempsey. "Whether I am a veteran or not, and I have always been that type of person. I go out and every game I try to make an impact and try to win it. So it doesn’t matter if it is my first cap or my 80th cap, I have the same mentality.”

The Other Red Bull. Ream's name will adorn the headlines for all the wrong reasons on Wednesday, but he wasn't the only Red Bull to make an appearance against Ecuador. Klinsmann sent Juan Agudelo in for a beaten-down Altidore at halftime, though Agudelo didn't quite capture the creativity he displayed against Honduras and in flashes at the international and club level to date. That did not concern the head coach of the Stars and Stripes, who confessed some of his intentions for his teenage phenom following the match.

"We see in Juan a very special talent coming through the ranks," said Klinsmann. "He's 18 years old and has a long way to go, but he's a tremendous talent. We have two plans for him. One is for him to be here and learn from the other players in this squad and get used to a higher intensity training. Number two is he will be part of an Olympic team that tries to get to London next summer, and that could be his first big international tournament. Going forward he can only learn and only improve."

20,707. That's the announced attendance for the US's debut at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday. And much like the international friendly held at Citi Field in June, the crowd gave sizable support to the visiting Ecuador side.

Red Bull Arena came under fire for not enticing enough supporters to show support for the national side in their first visit to the soccer-specific arena, though selling out a midweek October friendly against a FIFA mid-carder isn't exactly a recipe for a guaranteed sellout. Even if Ecuador and Greece nearly sold out the much-larger Citi Field in July, the change in seasons and sporting interests remain a battle that soccer continues to fight as it gains prominence in this country.

The question remains how long U.S. Soccer will hold this decent-but-underwhelming crowd against the home of the New York Red Bulls in favor of the much-larger MetLife Stadium in nearby East Rutherford. MLS continues to churn out new stadiums while international sides with bonafide stars demand much larger venues (and the accompanying revenues). It could be a long time before Red Bull Arena welcomes the Stars and Stripes home.

RBNY Notes: US Soccer can't corroborate Solli seeing Red

September, 15, 2011
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 "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?

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. FC New York

June, 28, 2011
It's derby day at Red Bull Arena as the New York Red Bulls welcome FC New York of the United Soccer League on Tuesday in the inaugural match-up between the two Big Apple clubs.

The two NY sides kick off as part of the 2011 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup tournament, which is the oldest soccer competition in the United States and features both amateur and professional sides that are affiliated with US Soccer. The US Open Cup winner -- which has consisted of MLS clubs in 14 of the last 15 years -- receives an automatic berth in next year's CONCACAF Champions League tournament.

Tuesday's match provides a pit stop for the Red Bulls, who were originally scheduled for a four-game road trip due to conclude this Saturday at San Jose. While the US Open Cup does not factor into the MLS Standings, the Red Bulls will likely play for their first win in any competition since April 30 after a soft Marco Pappa goal drew the Chicago Fire level for a 1-1 result on Sunday.

FC New York will take the pitch at Red Bull Arena after defeating the Pancyprian Freedoms 3-2 on penalty kicks at Belson Stadium on June 21. Goalkeeper and Queens native Steven Diaz saved a spot for FCNY in Tuesday's match by keeping a clean sheet against the Freedoms in regulation.

However, FCNY will be without team captain Sam Stockley after the English defender received a straight red card for a rough tackle in the second round match against the Freedoms.

Reserve Met. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe indicated that he expects to field mostly reserves in Tuesday's third round match against FCNY. Backe will likely have a few familiar faces at his disposal -- most notably forward Juan Agudelo and center back Tim Ream, who returned from international duty on Monday -- but will rest many of his regular players in advance of the club's upcoming weekend road trip.

“It will be mostly reserves,” Backe said to “Ream and Agudelo [could be] in because they haven’t played that much, but mostly reserves. Even if I still feel that it is a priority to play the Open Cup, with this schedule - San Jose away on Saturday - we just need to be smart.”

Who's Minding the Store? While Backe will give a good look to the likes of 2011 draft picks Corey Hertzog and John Rooney, he will have a decision to make with regards to his shot stopper.

Both Greg Sutton and Bouna Coundoul have received criticism for the mental lapses that resulted in less-than-stellar results at Seattle and Chicago respectively. Backe may elect to give one of them an opportunity to shake off their poor performance, or turn to reserve 'keeper Alex Horwath in order to let Sutton and Coundoul rest. Whatever Backe decides, the pundits' gaze will focus squarely on whoever lines up between the goalposts on Tuesday.

Gracious Guests. When FC New York president Doug Peterson introduced the plans for his club's inception in 2009, he also laid down a challenge to the Red Bulls for an annual Grapple for The Apple competition.

His dream will be realized on Tuesday, but could quickly turn to a nightmare if his club finds itself just happy to play at Red Bull Arena. FCNY manager Paul Shaw recognizes that his players will need to remain tough in resisting the star power and polish of the MLS side lining up against them.

"There may be periods in the game where we feel very comfortable, where we think, 'This is OK,'" Shaw said to the Wall Street Journal. "And that's where the better teams and the better players will hurt you."

RBNY Notebook: Soler calls foul on Portland refs

June, 21, 2011
After his squad accrued a season-high 25 fouls -- including Thierry Henry's third career red card -- on Sunday, Red Bulls GM Erik Soler joined the fracas by crying foul about the officiating.

On Monday, Soler released the following statement with regard to the foul imbalance that transpired between the Red Bulls and Timbers during Sunday's match at Jeld-Wen Field:
“We have carefully reviewed the film of our match against Portland last night and I can safely say that the level of refereeing was absolutely below the standards of what is required for a MLS match and completely unacceptable. First, the red card given to Thierry Henry was inexplicable. There was no violent conduct on his part whatsoever and this decision was made by a linesman who was more than half a field away. Second, in any soccer game, there is no way that one team can draw 20 more fouls than the other team, especially in a match where one team drew just five fouls. I have never seen this occur in my 30 years in the game.
We are aware that U.S. Soccer and MLS are working hard to improve the officiating in this country and we support those efforts wholeheartedly. However, if we want to continue increasing the level of play, we cannot let these types of refereeing performances occur. We look forward to speaking with the League to appeal Thierry’s automatic red card suspension and expect that it will be rescinded so that he is available for our match Thursday in Seattle.”

Unlike other North American sports leagues, Major League Soccer does not possess any direct influence over the referees overseeing the matches. Instead, U.S. Soccer supplies and oversees the referee corps assigned to every match -- meaning the buck stops with U.S. Soccer and not MLS in terms of clarification of referee controversies. MLS can review and adjust penalties given by referees, but cannot dictate policy as to how referees administer their rule enforcement responsibilities.

The only known transparency of referee oversight comes in the form of the 2011 Referee Week in Review blog located on U.S. Soccer's web site. After recapping the circumstances surrounding Henry's ejection, MLS referee Michael Kennedy offers the following assessment in this week's blog regarding how the referees handled the situation:
Despite all the variables at play, the referee crew does a good job of maintaining their focus on all elements of the game. The referee and assistant referee do an excellent job of communicating to make sure the misconduct is addressed. This incident happens in stoppage time of a closely contested game and is a great example of why referee crews must be vigilant and maintain their concentration until the final whistle.

That statement celebrates the referees' vigilance, but offers little in contextual terms of the dialogue between the referee and the assistant referee that led to the French striker being sent off. Soler will likely ask for further clarification during his appeal to the league later this week.

What a Coincidence. Timbers coach John Spencer watched Sunday's match from the owners' box as he served a one-game suspension and paid a $2,500 fine for publicly criticizing the referees during and after his club's 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids on June 11. Whether Soler or the Red Bulls receive a similar fate is up to MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Low Level. While Dwayne De Rosario answered Henry's ejection by converting the Red Bulls' first successful penalty kick of the season to salvage the 3-3 draw, the former Gunner could not endorse the resiliency of his shorthanded club in stoppage time.

“I don’t think Portland deserved to draw the game, and I don’t think we did deserve to draw the game either,” Henry said to “They deserved to win.”

Henry was nominated for AT&T Goal of the Week honors after lifting a shot past Timbers 'keeper Tony Perkins inside the near post for his league-leading eighth goal of the season, but remains unavailable for Thursday's match against the Seattle Sounders pending Soler's appeal to the MLS Disciplinary Committee.