That’s not going to happen, of course. But what’s the upper limit for this team? Are they that good? Just on a hot streak? Just lucky?
It’s not that the Red Bulls were drastically overhauled. Ten of the 18 players who have seen playing time this year played last year, and a few more have been out of action for one reason or another. The newcomers are solid but not spectacular.
“We had 7 of the 11 players from last season in the first lineup,” new coach Hans Backe said in a small, candid postgame press conference Saturday in RFK Stadium’s tunnels after the Red Bulls beat D.C. United 2-0. “So something good has happened during the preseason. A key factor was in the preseason we went to Spain and started winning friendlies.”
Was fellow New York sportsman Yogi Berra right? Is 90 percent of it half mental?
“I think the coaches instilled a winning mentality here,” said Carl Robinson, who along with fellow newcomer Joel Lindpere has had a calming influence on the midfield. “We haven’t played very well all games that we’ve played, but we’ve won games.”
“I think it’s confidence,” said Seth Stammler, who has been with the team through good (2008 MLS Cup appearance) and bad (2009). “Hans exudes that confidence that trickles down through the team. When things aren’t going well, we have that calmness.”
“You can see the team’s mentality has changed,” says goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, who arrived late last season.
We get it. (If you don’t get it yet, read more from MLSSoccer.com’s Kristian Dyer, who talks with Lindpere, longtime NY defender Mike Petke and imposing new forward Salou Ibrahim.)
It’s not just confidence. It’s patience. Backe reveals his game plan: “We have to have clean sheets 60-70 minutes, stay in the game and try to win it the last 20-30 minutes. So far, so good.”
So the Red Bulls were ahead of schedule against D.C. United, with Ibrahim bundling the ball into the net through some clumsy United defense in the 51st minute and Angel heading the ball over and past a motionless United defense in the 60th. That meant less time to rely on the defense and Coundoul to keep the game quiet. Still, the first half was “Bouna Time.”
“The whole team has got my back,” Coundoul said. He made a highlight-reel blunder against Chivas USA earlier this season, but that’s one of only three goals he has conceded on 33 shots. His 90.9 save percentage leads the league, slightly ahead of LA’s Donovan Ricketts (86.7).
Though some of Coundoul’s saves, particularly against United, have been spectacular, it’s not as if teams are teeing off on him.
“They’re organized in the back,” well-traveled United defender Carey Talley said. “That’s a difference (from last year). They don’t have guys shooting forward and leaving backs exposed, holes wide open. They’re a block of eight, every time. Once the ball gets played forward, they’ve got guys working off of them. The two guys up front, they’re deadly.”
Yet United players blamed themselves for not getting the knockout while the Red Bulls tried the Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope.
“They added some pieces, but in the end, we took the game to them in the first half,” Santino Quaranta said. “Last year, we finished our chances. They’re well-organized, but in the end, it was there for the taking.”
Clyde Simms thinks the Red Bulls aren’t quite the finished model.
“Most of the time, it takes time. You see it with expansion teams. They’re (New York) a special case. We’ll see how the rest of their season goes. I feel like they’ve been lucky with some PKs through the season on their end.”
But the Red Bulls aren’t doing anything stupid, which puts them a leg up on a lot of MLS teams that make silly defending decisions and commit rash fouls. That’s part of the changed mentality, one that D.C. United could use right now, Talley says.
“Digging yourself out of a rut is the toughest thing to do in anything – life, sports, whatever you have. Right now, we’re in a pretty deep rut. It’s easier to get down on yourself if things don’t go your way right away. That’s a mentality thing. That’s something, mentally, we’ve got to be better than that. Not scramble so much. Remember what the game plan is and execute it. …
“We get guys who start trying to play outside their roles within the team. Guys start doing maybe their own thing.”
And shedding bad habits is a good first step to take.
“Losing is a tough habit to get out of,” Robinson said.
Vote here to say how successful the Red Bulls’ turnaround will be by season’s end. I’m going toward the lower end — eventually, teams will adjust against them, and their new mentality will be tested. They might need one or two more players. Thierry Henry would be fun to watch, but I’m not convinced forward is their greatest need. (At least, I wasn’t until I saw a few Tweets about Ibrahim hurting his ankle in practice — that’s a story worth watching.)
The early MLS schedule is tough to comprehend. We have four Wednesday games this week, allowing some but not all of the teams that have played five games to catch up. But a couple of teams are playing their seventh game while Columbus sits around with four.
The games are (home teams first; times ET):
- D.C. United-Kansas City, 7 p.m., ESPN2
- New England-Chivas USA, 7:30 p.m., DK/MLSS
- Houston-Dallas, 9 p.m., DK/MLSS
- Colorado-Los Angeles, 9:30 p.m., DK/MLSS
For the rest of the weekly recap, I’m switching to team-by-team rather than game-by-game:
MLS STANDINGS AND LINEUPS
1. Los Angeles Galaxy (16 pts/6 games played)
– Won 3-1 vs. Philadelphia, wasting little time burying an overmatched opponent. Within the first minute, Edson Buddle set up A.J. DeLaGarza to finish a passing sequence that took up about a third of the game to that point. Buddle scored the next two himself. He’s on pace to score about 94 goals this season (math approximate).
– LA (4-4-2): Donovan Ricketts; A.J. DeLaGarza RB, Gregg Berhalter CB, Omar Gonzalez CB, Todd Dunivant LB; Charlie Birchall DM, Michael Stephens RM, Juninho AM, Landon Donovan LM; Alan Gordon F, Edson Buddle F
– Lineup changes: Donovan moves back to LM, pushing Mike Magee to the bench and opening a space for Alan Gordon. That pushes the Galaxy into more of a legit 4-4-2 with two target players rather than a 4-4-1-1. RB Sean Franklin out with an injured ankle; DeLaGarza spent another game switched from center to right, with Berhalter remaining in center.
2. New York Red Bulls (15 / 6)
– Won 2-0 at D.C. United (see above)
– NY(4-4-2): Bouna Coundoul; Jeremy Hall RB, Mike Petke CB, Tim Ream CB, Roy Miller LB; Dane Richards RM, Carl Robinson, Joel Lindpere CM, Seth Stammler LM; Juan Pablo Angel F, Salou Ibrahim F
– Red Bull changes: Robinson starts, Stammler moves to LM and Mac Kandji sits.
3. Houston Dynamo (10 / 6)
– Won 3-0 vs. Kansas City and it could’ve been five. Spectacular performance by the forwards and Mullan.
– HOU(4-4-2): Pat Onstad; Andrew Hainault RB; Bobby Boswell CB, Eddie Robinson CB, Mike Chabala LB; Brian Mullan RM, Lovel Palmer CM, Corey Ashe LM, Brad Davis AM; Luis Angel Landin F, Dominic Oduro F
– Dynamo changes: With Geoff Cameron lost to a long-term injury, the shuffle goes like this: Landin comes in at F, Mullan moves back to RM, Ashe moves to LM and Davis moves to AM.
4. Colorado Rapids (10 / 6)
– Lost 0-1 at San Jose. Good chances denied by SJ keeper Joe Cannon.
– COL (4-4-2): Matt Pickens; Kosuke Kimura RB, Marvell Wynne CB, Drew Moor CB, Danny Earls LB; Mehdi Ballouchy RM, Pablo Mastroeni CM, Jeff Larentowicz CM, Wells Thompson LM; Omar Cummings F, Conor Casey F
– Lineup changes: None. Ballouchy and Thompson remain on the wings instead of Jamie Smith and Colin Clark.
5. San Jose Earthquakes (9 / 5)
– Won 1-0 vs. Colorado. Terrific strike from Chris Wondolowski; big saves from Joe Cannon.
– SJ (4-4-2): Joe Cannon; Chris Leitch RB, Bobby Burling CB, Jason Hernandez CB, Ramiro Corrales LB; Joey Gjertsen RM, Brandon McDonald CM, Andre Luiz CM, Bobby Convey LM; Ryan Johnson F, Chris Wondolowski F
– Quakes changes: Leitch replaces Steve Beitashour. Burling replaces the absent Ike Opara. Andre Luiz returns from knee swelling to replace Ramon Sanchez.
6. Seattle Sounders (9 / 7)
– Tied 1-1 vs. Columbus. Conceded another stoppage-time goal, though this time in the first half. Freddie Ljungberg set up Steve Zakuani’s goal and had a few more moments of inspiration.
– LOVE the high end-zone camera for replays at Qwest Field. Different look, great way to see how plays developed.
– 4-3-3: Kasey Keller; Leo Gonzalez RB, Patrick Ianni CB, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado CB, James Riley LB; Osvaldo Alonso RM, Freddie Ljungberg CM, Peter Vagenas LM; Brad Evans RF, Steve Zakuani LF, Fredy Montero F
– Lineup changes: After mixing things up last week with two games in four days, Sigi Schmid threw his lineup all over the place. Did Gonzalez and Riley really switch sides, or is that a TV error? (I saw Riley on the right in at least one highlight.) Ljungberg drops from the front to center mid. Dropped from previous game: Tyson Wahl, Sanna Nyassi, Nathan Sturgis.
7. Columbus Crew (8 / 4)
– Tied 1-1 at Seattle. Steven Lenhart had the goal and another good chance. Hard to miss a target player with that much hair.
– CLB (4-4-1-1): Will Hesmer; Frankie Hejduk RB, Andy Iro CB, Eric Brunner CB, Gino Padula LB; Brian Carroll DM, Eddie Gaven RM, Robbie Rogers LM, Adam Moffat AM; Guillermo Barros Schelotto WF, Steven Lenhart F
– Lineup changes: The Danny O’Rourke-Gino Padula tag team continues. It’ll continue again next week because O’Rourke simply can’t go 90 minutes without two cynical card-worthy tackles. Chad Marshall (hamstring) is out.
8. Chicago Fire (8 / 6)
– Drew 1-1 vs. Chivas USA. LINEUP!!
– CHI (4-2-3-1): Andrew Dykstra; Tim Ward RB, C.J. Brown CB, Wilman Conde CB, Krzysztof Krol LB; Peter Lowry DM, Baggio Husidic DM, Patrick Nyarko RM, Marco Pappa AM, Justin Mapp LM; Collins John F
– Fire changes: Chicago is starting to like the one-striker formation, though it means choosing between John and McBride. John got the call last time; McBride this time. Also Tim Ward for Dasan Robinson. (Note that both “defensive” midfielders scored the goals.)
9. Kansas City Wizards (7 / 5)
– Lost 0-3 vs. Houston. Simply run off the park. Davy Arnaud was sent off on KC’s best chance. Jimmy Nielsen made at least two recover saves on balls that were practically on the line.
– 4-4-2 (according to graphic) or 4-1-2-3 (according to Christopher Sullivan): Jimmy Nielsen; Michael Harrington RB, Pablo Escobar CB, Matt Besler CB, Roger Espinoza LB, Jack Jewsbury CM, Davy Arnaud CM, Stephane Auvray CM; Josh Wolff RM/F, Ryan Smith LM/F, Kei Kamara F
– Lineup changes: The 11 players are the same. The question is how you classify Wolff, Smith and the three center mids. Besler remains in place of injured Jimmy Conrad.
10. Real Salt Lake (7 / 6)
– Won 2-1 vs. Toronto despite conceding yet another questionable penalty kick and having a yellow given to Saborio for a clearly accidental ball to the shoulder. I blame anti-Duke sentiment.
– RSL (4-4-2): Nick Rimando; Robbie Russell RB, Jamison Olave CB, Nat Borchers CB, Tony Beltran LB; Kyle Beckerman DM, Will Johnson RM, Andy Williams CM, Collen Warner LM; Alvaro Saborio F, Robbie Findley F
– Real changes: Findley comes in for Fabian Espindola. Collen Warner keeps his spot. Javier Morales was out with strep throat.
11. New England Revolution (7 / 6)
– Drew 1-1 vs. Dallas thanks to Preston Burpo’s heroics and a goalkeeping blunder by Dario Sala. Revs had two players sent off, legitimately — Kheli Dube and Joseph Niouky.
– 4-4-2: Preston Burpo; Kevin Alston RB, Cory Gibbs CB, Darrius Barnes CB, Seth Sinovic LB; Pat Phelan DM, Joseph Niouky DM, Sainey Nyassi RM, Marko Perovic LM’ Kheli Dube F, Zach Schilawski F
– Lineup changes: None.
12. Chivas USA (7 / 6)
– Drew 1-1 at Chicago. LINEUP!!!
– CHV (4-4-2): Zach Thornton; Mariano Trujillo RB, Dario Delgado CB, Michael Umana CB, Jonathan Bornstein LB; Michael Lahoud RM, Blair Gavin CM, Ben Zemanski CM, Jesus Padilla LM; Sacha Kljestan F, Justin Braun F
– Chivas changes: With Lahoud in, Padilla scoots to right, Gavin goes central and Jorge Flores sits. Then Kljestan goes to forward, which is curious, and he and Braun put Maicon Santos and Chukwudi Chijindu on the bench.
13. Toronto FC (6 / 6)
– Lost 1-2 in Salt Lake as Preki’s lineup changes backfired like a 1970s rotary-engine wagon.
– 4-4-2: Stefan Frei; Maksim Usanov RB, Raivis Hscanovics CB, Adrian Cann CB, Nana Attakora LB; Dan Gargan M, Amadou Sanyang M, Nane Joseph M, Nick LaBrocca LM; Martin Saric F, Chad Barrett F
– Lineup changes: Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman and O’Brian White all held out until halftime, with Gargan, Joseph and Sanyang in their stead. Oops!
14. FC Dallas (4 /5)
– Drew 1-1 at New England and should’ve done better. Couple of chances squandered, couple more saved brilliantly. Dario Sala gave away a goal as well.
– FCD: (4-1-4-1): Dario Sala; Zach Loyd RB, George John CB, Ugo Ihemelu CB, Jair Benitez LB; Daniel Hernandez DM; Atiba Harris RM, David Ferreira CM, Dax McCarty CM, Heath Pearce LM; Jeff Cunningham F
– Dallas changes: I had Pearce at the back and Benitez in midfield last week; ESPN listed them the other way around this time. But the same 11 players started.
15. Philadelphia Union (3 / 5)
– Lost 1-3 at Los Angeles. And Chris Seitz had a good game in goal. U17 star Jack McInerney had his first goal, set up nicely by Fred. Stefani Miglioranzi got an obvious straight red card.
– PHI (4-4-2): Chris Seitz; Cristian Arrieta, Michael Orozco, CB Danny Califf, Jordan Harvey; Stefani Miglioranzi, Andrew Jacobson, Roger Torres, Shea Salinas; Fred, Alejandro Moreno
– Lineup changes: With Sebastien Le Toux out, a costly absence for the Union, Fred moves up front and Shea Salinas comes into midfield.
16. D.C. United (0 / 5)
– Lost 0-2 vs New York (see above).
– 4-4-2: Troy Perkins; Jordan Graye RB, Carey Talley CB, Juan Manuel Pena CB, Rodney Wallace LB; Kurt Morsink DM, Santino Quaranta RM, Clyde Simms CM, Christian Castillo LM; Andy Najar F, Adam Cristman F
– Lineup changes: The only players keeping their spots from the last MLS game two weeks ago are Perkins, Wallace, Morsink and Quaranta. Talley moves from RB to CB; Najar moves from LM to F. Out: Devon McTavish, Julius James, Jaime Moreno (ineffective second-half sub), Chris Pontius (injured), Danny Allsopp.