I’ve had a chance to talk extensively with two great New York soccer writers this week for some of the podcasting I do for the San Jose Earthquakes and Center Line Soccer, but one of my favorite sources for information on the Quakes’ weekly opponent is the pool of my fellow SB Nation MLS bloggers. With that in mind, I asked Avery Raimondo over at Once a Metro to fill me in on the answers to three important questions going into Saturday’s big playoffs rematch between the Earthquakes and the Red Bulls.
Quake, Rattle and Goal! — The Quakes can be a very physical team when necessary, especially against teams like New York that tend to favor possession-heavy tactics. How have the Red Bulls dealt with opponents like that so far this season, and what adjustments do they still need to make to tip games more into their favor?
Once A Metro — I'd say the last three matches - at Columbus, home against Houston, and at Philadelphia - have been against more direct, physical teams; the two draws and a defeat illustrate how New York has faired against more pragmatic opponents. Backe has really pushed the transition toward a more possession-oriented style and, thus far, the results have been limited in terms of victories. The complaint surrounding New York's first four matches is that the Swede has sacrificed scoring - and subsequently winning - for the sake of aesthetics. This I disagree with as the move should ultimately lead to the greater use of the Red Bulls' skilled and star-studded lineup. Therefore, there aren’t adjustments New York needs to make except to increase their comfort in the new system. Chances, which have largely disappeared, will likely return once Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo, and Dwayne De Rosario began meshing properly. Conversely, the lion share of possession enjoyed has limited the opportunities for the opposition - the two goals that N.Y. have allowed have come from errors.
QRG — Dwayne De Rosario is still a fan favorite for many in San Jose. While only now getting to know his new team, what are the expectations for the former Toronto midfielder, and who on the team has needed to the most accommodate his inclusion in the line-up?
OAM — The label "The Final Piece" has been tagged to DeRo. The Red Bulls have required a playmaker over the last few seasons - the hole has been either left vacant or filled by underwhelming performances from the likes of Mehdi Ballouchy, the player sacrificed to make way for New York's new acquisition. RBNY needs De Rosario to be the club's creative conduit, the player that collects the ball in midfield and slips through Henry and Agudelo on goal. Of course, the Canadian international will also be allowed the freedom to bomb forward and take on defenders. Basically, the Red Bulls have lacked that extra-dimension to relieve the stress on the forward line; if DeRo can't do this, nobody can.
QRG — Red Bull Arena is clearly the premier soccer venue in the country, and many of the Quakes players expressed to me how exciting it is to play in such a professional environment. Have the Red Bulls themselves done enough to create a "fortress-like" environment at the stadium, and what more needs to be done to get better results at home on and off the field?
OAM — If you mean the front office, the answer is no. After the splash of the opening season, marketing has practically disappeared as the likenesses of Henry or Rafa Marquez are nowhere to be found in the city. This has led to a largely empty upper bowl which is a discouraging sight after the progress made in 2010. The South Ward, however, still contains one of the most boisterous and simultaneously witty collection of fans in the country. There is definitely a strong relationship between the Red Bulls and the Empire Supporters Club. New York, like many of MLS's original franchises, has found it difficult to match the attendance figures that many of the teams from this generation have managed. This creates a great disparity in terms of dedication between the truly dedicated ultras, the sitting season ticket holders, and those who make it to the occasional match.