Hoping for a big return tonight.
As frustrated as I've been about the prospects of a successful Liverpool Football Club, and as skeptical I've been of the seemingly "hanging by a wire" success of the New York Metropolitans, it's probably a little absurd that I've been as quiet as I have about the legit - and I mean LEGIT - success of the New York Red Bulls this year. Having purchased a pair of seats for tonight's match against Chivas USA, getting me out to Red Bull Arena for one last look at the team before MLS breaks for the Euros, my attention has certainly piqued.
When Thierry Henry went down with a hamstring injury last month, things looked plenty bleak for the club. They were coming off a stinging 4-1 loss down in D.C., and it didn't help to lose their (and the MLS's) leading goal scorer. The five match winning streak that followed, which they take into the match tonight, was certainly unexpected and has left them sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings with games in hand over the teams nipping at their heels. Henry has not been the only missing starter during this streak, either. Rafa Marquez
, one of the key componets of the Red Bulls' back four, has missed significant time due to a three game ban
(for breaking the collar bone of another player!!) and more recent Achilles tendon soreness that kept him off the pitch for this past weekend's game in Monreal. Wilman Conde, another starter in the back four, had missed time due to his own injury problems, found his return to the lineup further delayed by an arrest for aggravated assault on a police
But none of this has appeared to matter all that much to the players who've taken the field over the last five fixtures. Starting with three straight shutouts following that DC game, the defense has shown itself to be more than capable of carrying the load while the supposed stars of the back four deal with their off-the-field bullshit. Key message for the kiddies: Even if you're hot shit on the pitch, if you break another player's collar bone, or perhaps assault a cop, you risk being challenged for your starting spot. Even in the MLS.
Violence is not a laughing matter.
Flippancy aside, there's no denying the surprising play of the defense. Goalkeeper Ryan Meara, recent call-up to Ireland's U-21 roster, has been at the center of this - his rookie campaign has included 3 clean sheets (all during this last streak), a 1.41 GAA and 48 saves (which, over 12 games, is a pretty decent clip in soccer, if you can believe it). Awful haircut notwithstanding
, he's been perhaps the biggest reason why the team is still afloat, not to mention leading the East. Added to this, the Red Bulls similarly youthful defense, including Connor Lade, Tyler Ruthven and Brandon Barklage, have locked it down while awaiting the return of NYRB's top flight fullback talent.
This context makes tonight's match an interesting one - Conde and Marquez will both be available, and it is suspected that Marquez will start. Assuming he does, and that Heath Pearce - recently acquired in the trade that saw Juan Agudelo head to Chivas USA - starts at fullback against his former club, this will leave both Lade and Ruthven on the bench. It's anyone's guess whether the defensive quality that we've seen over the past month will continue or whether there will be a settling in period for the new mixture of players at fullback.
Up top, assuming Henry starts or at least play some
, I expect that the Red Bulls will only get better. Kenny Cooper, who now leads the team with 10 goals on the year, has been a force this year and is much of the reason why the team was so willing to part with Agudelo last week. His striking partnership with Henry was stupid good before Henry went down last month, and I imagine that any issues on the back end may be covered up a bit if the offense can pick it up a little bit with Henry's return.
Of course, if I was an actual expert on the team, I'd mention something about the midfield at this point. But, let's be honest - I've already worked well past this "lunch break" of mine and you've already toughed it out through enough of my world class analysis.
As for the Deeg-related angle of tonight's festivities, I'll be hitting Red Bull Arena with aspiring soccer enthusiast, The Apologist. Sure, Aps is really more of a typical hockey, football, baseball, basketball guy, but he really wants
to like soccer. He really does. I think this is Aps' second trip to RBA, having made the trip last year for the USMNT friendly vs Ecuador. And I think he really enjoyed it last time, especially when the Ecuadorian fan base started singing those songs about Darwin and extraordinarily niched finches. ♪♫ O, pinzones hermosos! Su adaptabilidad es asombrosa!
Since this is the first time Apologist have gotten together to watch a proper sporting event since the end of the hockey season, we'll be dusting off our iPhones to record another episode of the Legal Limit
. Since we'll be at least three or four beers deep for that adventure, you'll want to check back here later this week when the episode is posted so you can revel in our asshattery. You know you love it.Updated 5/24/2012: Apologist and I were not nearly as successful with our Red Bull Arena podcasting as we had hoped. A combination of exhaustion and, for Aps, relative apathy kept things pretty difficult. The game ended pretty well, a 1-1 draw, including Kenny Cooper's 11th of the year. Our attempt an post-game analysis, however, was forced, at best, and we shant be posting it later this week. You're welcome.
And so it goes, my fellow futile fans...
Yesterday, as the Yachtsman so eloquently put it to me, the Bills snatched a blowout from the jaws of a tight game and were defeated 27-7 in front of a hushed crowd at 1 Bills Drive.
Over the course of the 3 hours, the home crowd was treated to a classic Jauron dish ... "Back-Pedaling Quarterback A La Puss". Some of the names and faces look a little different, but make no mistake about it, this was a by-the-book Dick Jauron loss.
It had all the elements. Defense keeping the game closer for a little over three quarters of the game. Special teams giving the team great field position and a bonus touchdown that swung the momentum Buffalo's way early. And an offense struggling to make 1st downs over and over and over again.
But Mr. Apologist, the offense isn't Jauron's fault. He's a defensive-minded coach, he doesn't get involved in the offense.
Oh but he does my fine anonymous friend. You see, in the NFL, the proverbial 'buck' of the coaching staff stops at the head coach. If your offense is bad, and you don't fire your coordinator until the week before the offseason starts, and the new guy still can't get Trent to throw past the 1st-down marker, guess whose fault that is... not the new guy whose only been coaching for 2 years... it's the head coach's fault. Because it's his job to bring in the coaches that he believes will make the whole team run. He's the one responsible for the grand scheme and putting a plan in place to win football games. Do you think when numerous coordinators leave or Tom Brady goes down, it's anyone other than Bill Belichick whose responsible for getting the team to 11 wins?
I mean, who do you think decided who our starting quarterback would be going into this season? Who do you think is in Russ Brandon's ear when we decide whether to go after a Jeff Garcia or a Ryan Fitzpatrick in an offseason? Who decides to cut our left tackle, offensive coordinator and backup running back in the two weeks leading up to the start of the season?
Dick. That's who.
Because let's face it folks, yesterday, Dick, Perry & Co. put together a brilliant defensive plan to stop the Saints dead in their tracks and get the ball into the hands of their weapon-loaded, fast-moving offense. And for a little over three quarters Drew Brees looked totally baffled and the running attack had picked up minimal gains. After averaging 46.5 pts through the first two games, they had only scored 10 points over 45 minutes. Fortunately for them, Edwards and the offense he lead scored none.
I have defended this guy ever since they brought him in, but yesterday he looked no better than anyone else who has played the position since Doug Flutie was benched. His feet rarely looked set. He never connected on a pass for more than 20 yards. He never even got within FIELD GOAL RANGE!
Oh yeah... and the Bills were 2-14 on third down. In the fourth quarter, they didn't get a single first down, including the arguable punt call on 4-and-1 with 7 minutes left, down by 10.
That's why we brought in T.O. for $6 million? For 0 catches in 60 minutes? Oh no, wait. We brought him in to open up the field for Lee Evans. Evans, and his second-string coverage, got 4 receptions for 31 yards.
Yes, I remember the drop T.O. had. I also remember the bomb that overshot him by 5 yards.
Yes, it is hard to get consistency with a offensive line giving up pressure and poorly time penalties. But I'm sorry, if after three years Trent Edwards is still THIS rattled by pressure and penalties, then I don't know that he ever won't be. And by the way, who is responsible for such a young, inexperienced line?
You following the pattern here?
Remember going into last season when people couldn't understand why Jeff Fisher and Ken Whisenhunt seemed so confident in their decisions to start Kerry Collins and Kurt Warner, respectively, over their highly touted (and highly drafted) counterparts? How'd that work out for those guys?
The jig is up, my friends. Pull back the veil. It's Dick Jauron. Once a below .500 coach, always a below .500 coach. He'll keep you in games and then try really hard not to lose.
Yes, we did have an opportunity to win. But guess what, aforementioned friends? Every game is an opportunity to win. And when you've been getting opportunities (and by you, I mean you, Dick) to win for four years, and so far you've capitalized 22 times out of 52 chances, that means you're not doing a good job of coaching.
It should also mean that you're out looking for a new job, but... I'm done waiting for that to happen.
Epilogue...Four Players Leave Game With Injury
In what's becoming a disturbing pattern, four Bills were on the post game injury report yesterday...FS Donte Whitner
- Whitner left the game late in the fourth quarter with a thumb injury and had surgery today. As of now, he is week-to-week.Projected Replacement - Jairus ByrdCB Leodis McKelvin
- Jauron announced today that "Lockdown" Leodis suffered a cracked fibula in yesterday's game and he'll be out indefinitely.Projected Replacement - Drayton FlorenceSS Bryan Scott
- Scott went down a few plays after Whitner with what was called an ankle sprain. Today he'll get an MRI to check the extent of the damage.Projected Replacement - George Wilson or John WendlingLT Demetrius Bell
- Bell also left in the fourth quarter with a groin injury. No word yet as to the extent of the injury, but for a man who is 6-5, 307 ... that could be awfully painful.Projected Replacement - Kirk Chambers
On the plus side, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny was on the sideline without a cast yesterday, so hopefully we'll see him back on the field soon.T.O. Watch!
Only a guy like T.O. has to go face the media after getting 0 catches in a loss and breaking his impressive run of 185 straight games with at least one reception. Owens kept his responses short and terse, saving his most meaningful commentary for his twitter page.
Owens was ripped on NBC's Sunday Night Football by newly-hired announcer, known steroid user and cheap-shot artist, Rodney Harrison for being a "clown". (Tony Dungy, who mentors Michael Vick and a host of others, called guys like T.O. "difficult to coach".) T.O. responded on his twitter page by saying...
"I could less about Rodney Harrison! Anybody tht using steroids, yes STEROIDS rodney, is a cheater & cheated the game! ... Is tht Y u used steroids b/c u were worried about ur stats or ws it b/c u were losing it? Lol! U're a loser & a cheater? Got any steroid ... Hey rodney! Send me sum steroids 2 the Bills facility next week!"
I'd rather he be working on next week's game plan with Trent and AVP, than worrying about what the crew at NBC thought of his performance at the podium today, but heck, at this point I'm just hoping he can get Jauron fired.
Today, T.O. was slightly more introspective when he tweeted...
"Sittin n locker rm thinking about wht cn ‘I’ do 2 help this team. A couple of 1sts 4 me, 1st time 1-2, 1st time w/no catches since ‘96"
Again, I'd rather he tweet, "Guess I couldve said tht yestrday insted of 'I just go w/the plays that r called'", but again ... let's let him lay the charges before we start begging him to fall face-first on the plunger. Matter of fact, if this streak hits 1-5, that should be our new chant at games...
"Blow-it-up, T-O, Blow-it-up" *clap clap*
"Blow-it-up, T-O, Blow-it-up" *clap clap*
I think I'm onto something here.