Dane Richards can do more than run in a straight line? (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
With Erik Solér adding more shimmering Scandinavians, the arrival of the tenacious Luke Rodgers, and the usual SuperDraft haul, the 2011 New York Red Bulls were estimated by some to have the deepest roster in club (and possibly in the eyes of the most hyperbolic) MLS history. The Gold Cup has exposed this notion to be a fallacy. The humbling travails of the past month, however, should strengthen RBNY in the long run as the club attempts to bring silverware to trophy-barren Harrison.
Beneath Hans Backe's impressive first eleven, there is a bench that at this point can only be described as middling. The strength and versatility of the Swede's starters deflected attention from his average substitutes. A team with a back-line of Carlos Mendes, Stephen Keel, and Matt Kassel will - and probably often - concede. Mehdi Ballouchy is incapable of effectively carrying New York's creative burden. Austin da Luz can only fill space, not looking particularly threatening or vulnerable on the left flank. And Cory Hertzog as the second half attacking spark? Let's not go there. Not yet.
Now, the Gold Cup quintet will be returning in the coming weeks - Dwayne De Rosario is the first as he could partake in the Portland festivities now that Canada has been knocked out of the Gold Cup, but the fragility of the Red Bull lineup has been revealed. Adversity will inevitably strike every soccer club; there is no reason to believe that an injury crisis won't occur as the playoffs approach.
For instance, Joel Lindpere, Teemu Tainio, and Luke Rodgers are all listed as questionable as New York's West Coast jaunt draws near. Backe likely had a headache cobbling together a unit without his internationals; the absence of that essential trio will only compound matters. While the Timber match will be a nuisance for the kempt manager, his dilemma would be magnified exponentially if this situation arose on the cusp of or during the postseason. Therefore, Backe must beginning making adjustments and tinkering now.
Backe's preferred 4-4-2 consists of: Sutton; Miller, Ream, Márquez, Solli; Lindpere, De Rosario, Tainio, Richards; Rodgers, Henry. That is an admirable outfit, one without any major faults. Some may have qualms over Agudelo not budging his way in, but the frontline has arguably been NY's best performer thus far. Assuming that Backe won't waver from his beloved formation, changes will have to be made within the framework already created.
I attended last Monday's Gold Cup doubleheader, which included a stirring tilt between Jamaica and Honduras. Fortunately, I was able to witness in person Dane Richards with the Reggae Boyz, a team that appears to view the 27-year-old Red Bull as a leader. With his national team, the winger displayed positional versatility, appearing left, central, behind Ryan Johnson as a second striker, and on his usual right side. That type of flexibility could be key for
NY, lacking a natural replacement for Lindpere on the left flank if the Estonian was to experience break or blight. Juan Agudelo is another option that needs to be tested in that portion of the Red Bull midfield. If Chris Albright ever recovers from his hernia problem, Jan Gunnar Solli could have his desire to appear farther up the pitch fulfilled, allowing the Great Dane to possibly fill in elsewhere.
A missing Tainio is nearly unthinkable for New York; the Finn has been the lynchpin for the Red Bulls, directing teammates, distributing efficiently, and breaking up opponents' attacks. I doubt that a central duo involving a combination of Mehdi Ballouchy, Lindpere, or Dwayne De Rosario is feasible in the long run. A return to midfield for Márquez would be the ideal in this circumstance. While Carlos Mendes has looked poor next to Stephen Keel, his partnership with Ream during the first segment of last year was among the best in MLS. It would be foolish to break up a central defense of Ream and Márquez, but lacking an adept holding midfielder in Backe's formation would be absurd.
The Gold Cup has tempered Red Bulls's expectations, making an attempt at repeating in the East a struggle, let alone obtaining the Supporters' Shield. The tournament, however, should be viewed as enlightening. New York needs reinforcements; it's as simple as that.
Of course, Solér, the old artificer, is scheming:
"I think we're going to do a little here or there," the technical director told the media. "I'd be surprised if we didn't do anything."
A backup for Roy Miller at left-back? Some central midfield depth? Guti?(!)
We shall see.