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3 Thoughts: Reserve Bulls cow Montreal

The reserves won back a little pride for RBNY in CCL with a 1-1 home draw against an allegedly-superior L'Impact.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Sene's still not there

The big man had a few good touches, and more than a few half-chances that ought to have been whole chances - but when he had the ball under control he was too slow to be a threat, and when he had momentum, he found the ball too much of a distraction to do much with it.

Whatever Mike Petke was looking for out of his third fourth fifth-choice forward, he'd seen enough by the 72nd minute. Sene started every game in the New York Red Bulls' desultory CONCACAF Champions League campaign: it could have been the chance he needed to regain confidence and form after a miserable spell of injuries over the past two seasons. But it wasn't.

He carries the ninth-largest salary in the current squad (though RBNY may not be on the hook for all of it) - more than Lloyd Sam, Peguy Luyindula, and even the much-lamented Bobby Convey - but his days with Red Bulls could be numbered. If this end-of-season spell with the team was his chance to work his way into the 2015 roster (by leading the club to a CCL quarterfinal), it hasn't worked out.

Unless, of course, he brings some magic to the playoffs.

Connor Lade can do a job, even it isn't for RBNY in MLS or the Cosmos in NASL

The little big man bounced back into Harrison to fill out Mike Petke's I-don't-give-a-damn lineup for this doesn't-really-matter CCL fixture - and played quite well.

This is the second time Lade has been summoned back from loan at New York Cosmos to fill in for the Red Bulls while Petke continues his year-long crusade to keep his key players from being tainted by a competitive outing that isn't part of an up-and-down MLS season. Twice is allegedly once too often for the Cosmos, who have been muttering about verbal agreements and characterizing RBNY's decision to follow through on the terms of the loan as a "distraction".

Apparently he's no longer welcome back in Cosmos country - which might suit Mike Petke just fine. Lade looked sharp in a central midfield role, both as a deep-lying holding player when the team was lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and when he got the chance to play a little further forward in the 4-4-2 that broke out once Sene left the pitch.

He even scored RBNY's goal.

Lade doesn't seem to Petke's kind of player: he's made fewer appearances in the last two seasons combined than he did for Hans Backe in 2012. And if he's not going to play for RBNY, he deserved the chance to try his luck elsewhere. If the Cosmos no longer want him, Lade's work in CCL - now capped with a goal - added to his performances in NASL, may not just have got him back on the radar of coaches around the leagues of this country, it may also have given him some trade value for the Red Bulls.

In the meantime, if he is back with RBNY for good the time being, he showed well against a (pretty much) full-strength MLS team, albeit the worst in the league at the moment. Enough for Petke to trust him in the playoffs? Probably not. But fans ought not to be too concerned if circumstances produce the unlikely sight of Lade in a RBNY shirt in the post-season.

This CCL campaign was a huge missed opportunity

It's not so much the missed penalty in El Salvador. To be fair to Mike Petke, the only real problem with the squad for that match was the absence of Tim Cahill - and Petke said DP2 was injured at the time (helluva recovery to play four days later in LA: Tim's a trooper).

The real let down was that Petke didn't feel able to send the first team to Montreal to play L'Impact in RBNY's second game of the four-match group stage.

This was the second time Petke had fielded an all-reserve against Montreal's best-available lineup, and the second time the reserves did not do badly at all. As they had done on their trip to Canada, they more than held their own in midfield, limited L'Impact's opportunities - but struggled in the final third. Lade scored in this game because Montreal fell asleep at a set piece, but there were better opportunities that were not taken because of a lack of sharpness (looking at you, Saer) or the general communication problems that arise when a group of players isn't really a team.

When this group was drawn, it looked tough for RBNY because even a really bad MLS team is plenty able to trouble the Red Bulls, especially in 2014. The reserves almost got it done against Montreal - twice.

But, despite having almost exactly 10 months to prepare (the Red Bulls qualified for CCL in October 27, 2013, and kicked off the tournament on August 26, 2014), the best the team could do was scrape together the guys who couldn't be trusted with its MLS ambitions for the hardest game of its CCL schedule: L'Impact in Montreal.

The reserves played well then, and they played well again on a rainy night in Harrison to force a 1-1 draw with a visiting side that surely expected to win.

And if they could do so well against the best Montreal had to offer, imagine what stronger lineups might have achieved.

This CCL campaign helped a few young players to state their case for contracts for next season, revitalized Richard Eckersley's claim to be a useful member of the squad, and gave fans who could make it at least one extra night out at the Arena (the FAS game was fun).

But the club blew its chance to advance in the competition, and that is a mark against its preparations for this year. The team came too close to handling Montreal, and fell too far short of qualification, for this CCL effort to be judged as anything else than a failure to plan for the year ahead and rotate the squad sufficiently to be competitive in all competitions.