Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Angel Joins Red Bull, Now What?

For starters, the Red Bull needed to make room for the classy Colombian striker on the roster and Marvell Wynne was the odd man out, reuniting with Mo Johnston and struggling (on the field, that is, ticket sales are reportedly brisk) expansion squad Toronto FC.

Why Wynne? Let us count the reasons:

1) Ability: The No. 1 pick of the 2006 MLS Draft, Wynne is mad fast and extremely athletic. But as his dismal display in the season-opener at Columbus demonstrated, he has not progressed to the point where he can contribute to a team seriously considering a run at the MLS Cup. He simply couldn't keep attackers in front of him, and the Red Bull were lucky the Crew didn't score on any of the three times Wynne was totally undressed. Wynne may indeed put it all together, a la Kerry Zavagnin who blossomed after leaving MetroStars-Red Bull, but the time is now for Arena, Marc de Grandpre and Dieter Mateschitz. Let Mo develop Wynne. The Red Bull need wins now.

2) Team Spirit: Nothing fractures a locker room like a guy getting minutes based on reputation, draft status or marketing considerations instead of his on-the-field performance. Arena has already taken a few shots at his predecessor, "We played and looked like a pub team," why not buttress the point by sending a popular, high draft-pick of the former regime packing after a crap game? Ruthless competition for playing time and roster spots is a hallmark of championship teams.

3) Money: Wynne reportedly made $150,000 last year, a pretty big nut, comparatively, for a guy who couldn't keep Joseph Ngwenya from traipsing into the Red Bull box with impunity.

Whattabout the Lineup?

OK, with the short-term roster change prompted by the Angel acquisition complete, another situation which needs to be addressed is the starting lineup itself. Soccer By Ives has an interesting interactive exercise along these lines, and the thinking here is as follows:

1) Stay Calm: Lineups almost always work themselves out, so there's no need for hand-wringing at this point. True there are seven guys (Reyna, Kovalenko, Richards, Van den Bergh, Mathis, Altidore and Angel) and only six midfield-forward slots, with Markus Schopp and Mike Magee convalescing in the background. So what? Angel hasn't got his visa yet and Claudio's thigh is purpler than Prince's nurple. Why borrow trouble?

2) Depth: Should Angel and Claudio be available quickly (April 26 at Dallas, or May 5 at Utah?) it's all good. Depending on injuries, current form and tactical adjustments tailored to opponents, Arena will probably start a formation featuring Reyna, Dema, Van den Bergh, Mathis, Altidore and Angel, with Richards as a terrific Plan B and motivation for the Dutchman, the Cletus and the Kid (Jozy) to keep producing or find a seat on the bench.

3) Chemistry: Angel makes the players around him better by holding the ball up and unselfishly dishing to the open man. Mathis, as witnessed by Sunday's match, has similar passing qualities. Reyna has always been a great distributor of the ball. Altidore is a budding star (YouTube) in the classic striker mode and Richards is one of the fastest players in the league. Dema tackles and releases with uncommon quickness, while Van den Bergh, at least initially, seems committed to keeping the ball moving into open spaces. On paper, an impressive mix of talents, but the undefinable alchemy necessary for winning team chemistry can't be forced, or rushed.

More Angel-Related Links

Big Apple Soccer: Player reaction | Free transfer, big salary

Official Red Bull site: Angel quotes

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