By Alex Labidou
Is playing at right back affecting Jeremy Hall’s development?
The New York Red Bulls latest signing, Brian Nielsen, was greeted with a lot of optimism and excitement at the team’s arena last weekend. After all, left midfielder has a been a weakness of the Red Bulls for the past two seasons and the speedy 23-year old has plenty of ability and potential. However, there has to be concerns over the development of 21-year old Jeremy Hall who was drafted just last season to be the team’s cornerstone at left midfielder. With the former Maryland player succeeding at right back, are the Red Bulls ignoring the opportunity to develop a player who could potentially be a premier player in his natural position?
After a slow first half by the Red Bulls against the Philadelphia Union, Hall reinvigorated the team in the second half by beautifully crossing the ball directly in the head of Salou Ibrahim who emphatically scored his first goal in the MLS and gave the team a 1-0 lead. As good as Hall has been at right back, these are the moments that continue to feed into the speculation that he should finally be allowed to play in the position that he’s excelled in since high school. It has been necessity that has forced Hall to play out of position not talent. Veteran off-season acquisition Chris Albright has been injured and Luke Sassano hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant more than part-time action.
Hall continues to be as democratic about the dilemma as possible. After all, he has consistently been a starter in the MLS since his arrival last season and has worked extremely diligently to learn how to be effective in a new position. The expanded freedom given to fullbacks from new coach Hans Backe has also allowed him to take advantage of his skills in midfield. Hall still does consider what his future will be considering the eventual return of Albright and the addition of Nielsen.
“I mean at this point, I don’t know. If coach continues to feel comfortable playing me at right back, then that’s fine. If that is the position Backe keeps putting me in and we’re getting W’s then that’s fine,” said Hall.
“Playing in college and even before that, my whole life, at that position [left midfield], it’s more natural,” Hall added.
Backe acknowledges that it has been unfair to the former Terrapin to play him out of position but is also pleased with his success at the position.
“It’s not really fair for him to be playing at the back position, to me Jeremy is a wide player at either right or left,” said Backe. “He looks very good at that right back spot at the moment and he’s playing there for a year and half but we want to give him more freedom.”
There is one potential solution that might be beneficial for all parties when Albright returns. Backe has previously discussed that Nielsen could also be useful in a second striker/attacking midfielder role. With the current long term injury to Mac Kandji, the team is currently lacking depth at the forward position. This would allow the coach to move Ibrahim to a bench role where he can provide a change of pace if necessary and utilize Nielsen’s slashing runs and vision to give the team something different on offense. These moves would allow the team to finally use Hall at his natural position.
* Isn’t having the best stadium in the MLS enough? Considering that the Red Bulls currently are the best team in the Eastern Conference and have the best stadium in the MLS by far, the team’s recent attendance has been almost embarrassing. In the team’s last two home games against FC Dallas and the Philadelphia Union, the announced attendances have been at the 15,000 mark which is about 60 percent of the Red Bull Arena’s current capacity. Considering the 200 million dollars spent on the stadium and the considerable promotion afterwards, it is clear that the Red Bulls will have to do something drastic in order to gain consistent sellout crowds. Several of the team’s players were shocked by the lack of turnout.
“Yea I am surprised,” said Hall. “I mean it’s a great stadium, even though it doesn’t look full, it is so loud and it’s a great place to play. We hope the fans come out, and we don’t know the reasoning behind it but we hope to get better attendance for next coming games. “
This will only continue the pressure on the team to sign a world renowned player with one of its DP picks.
* Let the Rookie of the Year campaign begin for Tim Ream…The 22-year old continues to impress and after his first five games in the MLS, it is becoming very clear that he is no fluke. The rookie has looked fearless against the likes of Brian McBride, Jeff Cunningham and Freddy Montero. The first year player might even earn a trip to Reliant Stadium as an all-star if he keeps it up.
* Center Midfield and Forward Are the Targets for DP According to Backe…In his postgame conference the 59-year old Swedish coach admitted that the DP position would only be used to bring a top level striker and midfielder. The coach added that there are plenty of solid defenders in the MLS and shot down rumors that a DP slot would be used on defense.
*Get Ready To See Toni Tchani Tonight: The number two overall pick in the MLS Draft hasn’t had many opportunities this season but with Backe deciding to rest most of his starters tomorrow, Tchani should start. The central midfielder is physically imposing at 6-4 even if he is still raw when it comes to pass competition. With Carl Robinson failing to impress after his move from Toronto, if Tchani impresses tomorrow it could lead to more playing time for the 21-year old Cameroonian.
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.