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 officer. Yikes.
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.
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.