After a controversial decision last week against Houston, it’s time for Dallas to shrug off the loss and move on. The friendly confines of Toyota Stadium have the Hoops battling New York Red Bulls this Saturday. The reigning Supporter’s Shield winners have had a very slow start to the season and are coming off a 2-1 loss to Montreal. The Bulls are 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 11 points. Coming off a 2-1 loss of their own down in Houston, FC Dallas is now in 5th place in the Western Conference with 17 points.
It’s time to start talking about winning trophies and having a hangover the next season. Every year for the past, at least five years, a trophy winning team has started out awful and ended up lasting through the remainder of the season. This season, both the MLS Cup winner (Atlanta) and Supporter’s Shield winner (NYRB) have been, basically, awful. We saw what happened to Toronto last season. We saw what befell our beloved Hoops the season before that. It seems the only cup to somewhat guarantee future success is the U.S. Open Cup. And that brings us back to the present in which a record setting New York Red Bulls team last season, who ended up with 71 points and only lost one starter (Tyler Adams) in the offseason, could start out this season with only three wins through ten games. What has gone wrong?
For one, it seems new-ish head coach Chris Armas really was just going with the flow last season. After New York started out hot, the Red Bulls mothership called up coach Jesse Marsch to oversee another RB team in Leipzig. Armas took charge midway through the season and kept up the high pressure – high octane system all the way to the Shield. So, the basic thought would be that Armas would know he had a good thing going, wouldn’t rock the boat in the offseason, and would pick up right where he left off with “the Best Team in MLS History” (NYRB supporters words, not mine). Easy-peasy. And that’s what he tried to do. Apart from losing Adams, this team is the same as last season’s record setter. For all the hype surrounding Adams, not even he could have that much of an impact, could he? As it turns out – yes(!) and – no!
Adams undoubtedly left a huge hole for New York that Marc Rzatkowski has not been able to fully fill. MR (you try typing his name again) was with New York on loan last season and was an able spot starter in varying roles all year. But after making him a permanent signing and asking him to fill the Adams void, it’s showed how vast Adams role was. MR simply can’t be the two-way player Adams was, and there’s no shame in that. But that’s not the only problem. Bradly Wright Phillips has missed a few games, but he’s not having his usual success either, having only one goal so far. In fact, the entire attack has been just mediocre this season. With only 13 goals scored, they are in the bottom half of the league in that category. Wingers Daniel Royer and Alex Muyl lead the charge with two goals a piece followed by nine others who have one on the season. Alejandro Romero Gammarra, Kaku, was supposed to provide New York with attacking oomph and creativity. Alas, his…incident…in Kansas City has overshadowed anything else he’s done on the field.
If there’s any hope too be seen in this team however, it starts with a youngster breaking into the first team. Cristian Casseres Jr. appears to be the next young player in the organization destined for a bigger and brighter Red Bulls team. Casseres was brought in last year but spent most of his time on the bench. But he’s making the most of his minutes this season as a box to box type, filling more ably the Adams hole than Rzatkowski has. He brings speed and aggression to the field and has most definitely earned more playing time than some may have thought while taking over for the suspended Kaku. His role moving forward, even now that Kaku has returned, deserves to be sizable.
Sean Davis has been the foundation for the midfield, literally and figuratively. Playing his regular defensive mid role, he gives freedom to the front five players to press high and attack in all zones, knowing he will be there to clean up after them. Backing him up is the solid if unspectacular duo of Aaron Long and Tim Parker. Reigning Best XI left back Kemar Lawrence has battled injuries this season but should be fit to go this game. If ever there was a full back to model Reggie Cannon’s game after, Lawrence’s is probably the one. If Lawrence is still out, look for some combination of Connor Lade, Michael Murillo or Amro Tarek to fill the full back spots. Luis Robles still ably fills the keeper spot and is still one of the best in the league.
So back once again to the pressing question of what exactly has been different and gone wrong with this New York team. After their disastrous opening 7 games, New York won back to back against newbies FC Cincinnati and then big guns Los Angeles Galaxy only to fall back to earth with a loss against Montreal (Eastern Conference leading and Maxi Urruti deploying Montreal to be fair). Was the CONCACAF Champions League so grueling and crushing that losing in the first round ruined the season? Was the loss of Kaku for a few games debilitating to the team (unlikely considering the two wins). Maybe Armas just hasn’t found the right pre-game speech to get the team going. The team still plays a high press style. They still have loads of talent all around the roster. Maybe it’s as simple as standing still in the transfer market has allowed other teams to catch up. More likely, as always, it’s a combination of everything mentioned above. Losing Adams, long international travel, coaching changes, roster non-changes, chemistry and most important of all, luck or the lack there of.
Key Matchup: Jesus Ferreira vs Tim Parker
Once again, this is more about Dallas scoring goals than the opposing team stopping them. Dallas must find a way to kick it’s attack into gear. Controversial goal decisions in stoppage time can’t be when Dallas is picking up a second goal. They’ve been good at getting early goals all season and Jesus will need to pick up the pace and consistency to keep a starting spot for the whole season.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. M.I.A. Players – Gone this week will be Paxton Pomykal, Edwin Cerrillo, and Brandon Servania for the U20 World Cup. Paxton and Cerrillo have made undeniably impressions on this team thus far and it’s going to be tough to replace them. But Dallas has the depth to make this work. Now is the time for Jacori Hayes, Pablo Aranguiz, Santiago Mosquera, Thomas Roberts et al to grab their starting spots and make a case to keeping them once the young internationals come back.
2. Spark Plug – Did I mention Mosquera needs to pick things up? He looked terrific off the bench last week, but that was too little to late to salvage the points. Mosquera has been a major disappointment based on our preseason predictions. But the season is young, he can still score game changing goals…but will he?
3. Deal with the Press – Dallas has struggled with teams who truly utilize a high press and they don’t come more committed than New York. The veterans in the midfield – Carlos Gruezo, Bryan Acosta – should be better dealing with the pressure than Cerrillo and Paxton were. At the same time, everyone on the field needs to do better in making quick decisions, moving around in space to help others, and providing outlets when necessary.
How does this game play out you ask? New York had seemed to start putting things together over the last few weeks and looks more like last seasons team than the dreadful imposters earlier in the season. Dallas on the other hand has almost played down to expectations the past few weeks. It feels like this could be a turning point for either team, New York on the way back up; Dallas down where pundits thought they would be. But that’s ridiculous of course. One game doesn’t decide a season. It’s just another step down the road. Dallas hasn’t looked good without Paxton starting games, but New York hasn’t look very good period. Give me a 2-1 win at home to get the good vibes rolling again.