By Alex Labidou
Is Luke Rodgers really the answer for the Red Bulls struggles up top?
While it might be hasty to give a verdict on Hans Backe as an MLS coach, one thing is already abundantly clear, he is brutally honest. The Red Bulls 2-1 victory over FC Dallas was one of the luckiest results over the past weekend and instead of resting on the laurels of continuing a perfect start at Red Bull Arena, Backe was very critical of his strike force. Seeing that having top finishers are crucial for MLS success, the Swedish coach has already cautioned that he will make significant changes if necessary.
“We need pace up front,” said Backe during the team’s postgame conference. “Right now, the only pace we have is on the right with Dane [Richards].”
Trying to reinvigorate a stagnate offense, Backe moved Mac Kandji from his natural position at striker to left midfield and started Salou Ibrahim alongside Juan Pablo Angel. After a few blown wide open opportunities and an inability to keep possession, it was clear that the experiment failed miserably. It was only due to some costly mistakes by FC Dallas’ shaky defense that allowed Angel to have two penalty opportunities (the first of which he missed) and a wide open poacher’s effort in the penalty box that allowed the team to sneak away with a win.
The partnership of Angel and Kandji continues to disappoint despite both players considerable talents. The pair has only scored 19 goals together since the beginning of last season (with Angel scoring 14 of those goals). Part of the problem lies in the fact that both players are very similar. Both are relatively tall strikers who aren’t strong in the air but have the physical prowess to post defenders and create opportunities for other players. With Angel continuing to steadily decline as he approaches 35 and Kandji yet to take advantage of his vast physical talents considering his pace and size at 6-4, offense can continue to be a problem for a team that scored a dreadful 27 goals last season.
Thanks to the Red Bulls almost impenetrable defense, the team currently sits first in the East and second overall but there are concerns that there might be too much pressure in the back. Tim Ream, the team’s rookie steal at central defense admitted that at times the lack of offensive continuity has added extra work but was happy by the progress made in the last game.
“It adds a little bit of pressure but we play a style of play that tries to get all 11 guys involved offensively, so we’re all responsible,” said Ream. “You can always tell when things aren’t clicking but you need to have confidence in them[the forwards], that they are going to get things going and tonight they looked like they finally might get things working.”
Speedy right midfielder Richards was less politically correct in his assessment of the Red Bulls offense on their opening four games.
“Sometimes the final part is not there,” said Richards. “The final part in the final third isn’t there and sometimes when things come up short, teams can take advantage and counterattack.”
Prior to the MLS deadline, the Red Bulls decided to sign two players who they believe can add significant depth to the roster and light some competitive fire on the current personnel. Luke Rodgers and Brian Neilsen are two players who Backe and team management believe can inject pace and create more opportunities on offense. No one should expect immediate fireworks as Rodgers scored just 10 goals for Notts County in England’s fourth division and Neilsen is still relatively young at 23 but several players are already expecting some positive changes.
“Personally, I think it’s better that way, having competition,” said Kandji. “ It makes you perform at your highest because if you don’t have competition you automatically assume that you have a spot and don’t need to worry. Now we have competition…It’s good that way and it’ll help me get better. “
Richards also believes the additions are beneficial but also believes that the team will find answers within as the rotation becomes consistent and players get better acclimated to each other.
“Things take time and it’s only the fourth game of the season. We have a 30 game season so there is plenty of time to improve. “
Who is Luke Rodgers?
The Red Bulls are currently awaiting a work permit for English striker Luke Rodgers. The 28-year old player has a previous
Photo from fOTOGLIF
relationship with Backe, having played under the coach’s brief stint in Notts County. The team hopes that the 5-8 forward should adjust to the MLS quickly due to his familiarity to Backe’s system. It is well known that that coach has already expressed an interest to bring more pace into the team but Rodgers isn’t much faster than Kandji and considering his 10 goal showing in England’s fourth division, League 2, immediate fireworks shouldn’t be expected. One key attribute that Rodgers does bring is craftiness in dribbling and making slashing runs towards goal. In other words, he provides something a little bit different from the towering strikers that currently fill the team’s roster.
Off the pitch, the team should be concerned about Rodgers penchant for finding trouble. Part of the difficulty in getting a permit for Rodgers has been his previous affray conviction that he faces for a bar brawl and he has been involved in a number of fights with teammates and local fans. Not exactly the type of player you want to invite to the big city if you catch my drift…
Who is Brian Nielsen?
Brian Nielsen is a Danish left winger who has joined the Red Bulls on loan from Danish Liga team Veije BK. Backe has raved about the Neilsen’s pace and creativity and the 23-year old has featured for Danish national team on every youth level. He is set to join the Red Bulls parent club, Red Bull Salzburg, in January and many believe that he is one to watch in the future. Unlike the Rodgers deal, there isn’t much risk in taking a chance on a player who could eventually be a solid player in Europe.
* Believe it or not, Wigan’s stunning 10 minute three goal rally over Arsenal has to be one of the least surprising results I have ever seen. Arsene Wenger’s side on Sunday featured two center backs that haven’t been relevant since 2004 and a holding midfielder in Craig Eastmond who probably wouldn’t see time on Wigan’s reserves team. As much as Wenger’s steadfast philosophy of scouting talent and teaching proper fitness and tactics continue to be admirable, the 60-year old Frenchman iconic status might finally be vulnerable unless he finally invests significant funds into the team this season. The team has serious holes that must be addressed including a goalkeeper that can actually catch, a striker over six feet who can actually play more than 20 games a season and center defenders who aren’t considering Viagra yet. If not, expect the boo birds at the Emirates to get louder and gain more traction until “The Professor” is shown out the door.
My top five targets for the remaining two Red Bulls DP slots: Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera, Gary Neville, Raul and Juan Angel Riquelme.
Even though the media continues to speculate that the New York Red Bulls are targeting Henry, Viera and Raul for their two remaining DP slots, I personally believe that there are two additional targets that the team should make a run at. Neville and Riquelme might not be the first names that come to mind due to their strong commitments to their current clubs in Manchester United and Boca Juniors respectively but the lure of New York and the millions of billionaire soft drink mogul Dietrich Mateschitz have to count for something. The contracts of both players expire at the end of the season and while it might be out of the box, it’s a gamble worth taking. Could you imagine Riquelme in the MLS, he would easily be the league’s best player and an easy sell to America’s strong Hispanic population.
View From The Laboratory is written by Alex Labidou. Throughout the 2010 MLS season, he will provide insights on the New York Red Bulls as well as inside rumors and hilarious tales of irrelevance. Labidou joined 90:00 Soccer as a contributor in August 2009 and has worked as a journalist for VIBE, NBA.com, ABC News (20/20) and New York Newsday. He can be reached at AlexLabidou@gmail.com.