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PRESEASON: Red Bulls contrive to instill panic about American soccer, only win 1-0 versus 20 year old Brazilians

Memories of failed direct free kicks are plentiful for fans of the New York Red Bulls. Of course, the most notable one is the infamous Roy Miller effort at the end of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinal. The trend of failure may change this season.

Ruben Bover curled in the game winner to record his second goal in the 2014 preseason. The goal led the Red Bulls to defeat a Fluminense Under-23 team 1-0 on February 26 at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic. The result marks the second win in the Florida tourney and the third overall this preseason.

Starting Lineup: Ryan Meara; Kosuke Kimura, Armando Lozano, Jamison Olave, Roy Miller; Lloyd Sam, Eric Alexander, Dax McCarty, Johnny Steele; Bradley Wright-Phillips, Thierry Henry.

A lineup missing stalwarts Tim Cahill and Peguy Luyindula, led to a disjointed and less fluid game than the past few dominant ones. The young Brazilian side brought an energetic performance that matched the level of play from their veteran opponents. John Wolyniec, a member of the coaching staff and former New York player, spoke of Fluminense’s threat before the match.

“[…] you do play a younger team like that, you’re going to be concerned about their energy and how much work they’re going to be able to do during the game,” Wolyniec said in a preview of the game.

The best chance of the first half came from Fluminense when a back-heel by their number seven inside the box found number 11, Eduardo, to flick the ball toward the top right corner. Ryan Meara, starting in place of incumbent Luis Robles, made a reflex save with his left hand to tip the ball over the crossbar.

For New York, their most dangerous moment occurred after a Lloyd Sam through-ball to Thierry Henry. A fake shot and deliberate hesitation by the Frenchman saw the defense temporarily clear to an open Kosuke Kimura in their box. The Japanese player sent a low shot across goal which was  saved by the goalkeeper Klever’s right foot.

On the rainy day in Florida, the game continued its slow pace following the start of the second interval. Majority of the first team players lasted to approximately the 60th minute until wholesale substitutions were made.

Second Half Subs that finished the match: Santiago CastanoChris DuvallMatt MiazgaIbrahim SekagyaAmbroise OyongoConnor LadeMichael BustamanteRuben BoverMarius ObekopAndre AkpanPeguy Luyindula.

Following a goal against Montreal in the last game, Ruben Bover curled a free kick around a four man wall on the left side of the box past a diving keeper in the 73rd minute. Once again, the young Spaniard sent out another primal roar  to celebrate his goal and demonstrate his new found confidence. In the 89th minute, left-winger Marius Obekop missed a clear opportunity to add to the lead.

Head Coach Mike Petke admitted the first half performance from his side was less than its usual standard and only improved after halftime.

“It was a tough first half, a bunch of 20 to 22 year old [players] from Brazil [who are] very crafty with the ball, very eager to play against us,” Petke said in a post match interview. “In the second half, we came out with a lot better attitude.”

A major positive to take away from the game is the continued and substantial contributions from the bench. According to Petke, the same “young guys” that came on for the third straight game “impressed the hell” out of them.

In particular, most witnesses are noting the improved play of Bover and his central midfield partner, Michael Bustamante. According to Bover, “all the young kids” are trying to illustrate they are “ready to play”.  He also spoke of what led him to attempt his spectacular goal.

“All the guys from the bench told me to try it,” Bover said in a  post match interview. “I saw a little bit of space, so I went for it, and it ended up being a goal.”

One must not forget that Bover impressed last preseason as well and actually earned a start against Portland in the season opener. His minutes diminished substantially after the surprise appearance unfortunately. However, Petke said he “corrected some issues from last year”.

“He understands his role now,” Petke said. “He’s a guy you put in a certain position, and he’s nto going to wind up all over the field like did last year, a little to eager to find the ball.”

“He sticks to what we want from him. He’s very crafty with the ball at his feet.”

The New York Red Bulls finish up their preseason preparation in Florida with a game on March 1 against a to be determined opponent.

General thoughts: 

  • Henry’s set pieces in the first half were consistently dangerous and repeatedly caused havoc in the box. He also continued his trend of dropping deep and playing two-way ball (offense AND defense). A play in the 36th minute gave witness to the Frenchman winning the ball almost on his own 18 and passing to a BWP on the run.
  • Armando obtained another start this preseason alongside Olave. He clearly brings a different skill-set and style of play than his predecessor, Markus Holgerrson. Is he an upgrade in the position though? Armando again resisted hoofing the ball far forward for clearances, instead attempting to play out of the back with short passes to feet. He was not always successful. Will he have adjustment struggles to Major League Soccer like Holgerrson possessed in his debut season? From observations this preseason, the assumption is he likely will. I suspect he will not garner as much ridicule and criticism from fans this season like the former Swedish center back received on many occasions. Unfortunately, my presumption stems from his “sexier” and “cooler” style on the field compared to the lanky, awkward Swede.
  • If Olave is a likely absentee on the synthetic turf of Vancouver’s field on March 8, then why has Petke not given Armando and Sekagya more time together? Certainly, all the staff and players are seeking a win in the season opener, so chemistry in central defense is crucial.
  • In the 2013 preseason, Michael Bustamante was one of many supplemental draft picks who surprisingly earned a roster spot and even recorded a secondary assist in his rookie season versus Toronto. I recall hearing Petke shouting at Bustamante in a 2013 preseason game against Columbus to play simpler and not complicate the game. Keep in mind, I eavesdropped on this moment through an internet feed, but the advice was well audible. Clean, simple distribution and positioning are two major characteristics that create a successful holding midfielder. Bustamante seems to be grasping these concepts.
  • Connor Lade made a much needed appearance off the bench after reports emerged of a concussion he suffered sometime during this off-season. Petke said there are no more health issues with the homegrown player and that Lade continues to vie for minutes.
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