After picking up just four points from the first five games of the 2014 MLS regular season, it’s time for New York Red Bulls to push the panic button.
At the beginning of the season, Thierry Henry and his teammates were favorites to win the Supporter’s Shield because Mike Petke was able to keep most of his players from last season. His starting line-up looked healthy during the preseason which is why some picked them as the team to beat. Besides Henry and Tim Cahill, the Red Bulls’ starting line-up is made up of players like Jamison Olave, Dax McCarty and Lloyd Sam. All five players mentioned are very experienced and among the best in the league.
So, what is the problem with the team? The answer is quite simple. Petke does not have the players that fit into his system.
The second year head coach has two reliable goalkeepers in form of Luis Robles and Ryan Meara. Robles is one of the best shot stoppers in the MLS. He was third in the league last season with 103 saves, and has recorded 22 saves this season. Meara was the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year award in 2012, before he sustained a hip injury.
Despite having an absolute destroyer like Olave on his roster, Petke’s defense is as feeble as a new born child. The team’s defenders lack chemistry which is why they haven’t kept a clean sheet and have conceded 9 goals in just five games.
After releasing towering Swedish center back, Markus Holgersson, the organization thought they had picked up the perfect replacement in form of former Barcelona B’s captain, Armando. They were wrong. The Spaniard has been atrocious so far.
The 29-years-old isn’t the fastest, nor is he the smartest player. He doesn’t read the game well and lacks the awareness needed to succeed in the league. His lack of awareness was on display in the first game of the season against the Vancouver Whitecaps. He was almost at the halfway circle when a ball was chipped over him to a wide-open Kenny Miller, who confidently lifted it over Robles.
Although Petke has competent players who are capable of forming an intimidating midfield, the former Red Bulls defender can’t find a central partner for McCarty. The teams’ lack of creative player has left Petke no choice but to play Peguy Luyindula (a striker) and Eric Alexander (a winger) as central midfielders.
Both players are capable of playing down the middle, however they are very limited. Luyindula likes to play much closer to the forward, which leaves a lot of gap between him and McCarty, who is more defensive-minded.
Alexander is willing to do the defensive work and has the ability to break down defenses with his skill and pace, but his final ball is below par.
The departure of Fabian Espindola has left Pekte stranded for options up top. Cahill (naturally a midfielder) has been asked to fill in as a center forward because of his goal scoring exploits. But the Australian has struggled to find the back of the net, and will continue to struggle.
Australia’s all-time goal scorer does more damage when he plays in behind the center forward. That position allows the 34-year to make late runs into the box and pounce on crosses. Cahill becomes a non-factor in the Red Bulls offense when he plays as a No. 9. He can’t make late runs into the box from that position, his passing and vision will be useless because he is playing with his back to goal and he’s too small to overpower a center back.
If reinforcements are not brought in immediately, New York could find itself sitting at the bottom of the eastern conference at the end of the season.