Saturday, April 7, 2007

Red Bull Grab Ice-Cold Point In Season Opener

Well, they didn't lose. The Red Bull kicked off the 2007 season in rather inauspicious fashion on Saturday night, holding Columbus to a scoreless draw before an announced crowd of 13,782 hearty and frigid souls at snowy, frosty Crew Stadium. Considering the Crew dominated most of the second half, including hitting the woodwork behind goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus, the Red Bull should be happy with the point gained and focus on what worked -- and what didn't -- in preparation for the home-opener on Sunday, April 15 versus FC Dallas at the Meadowlands.

So, what conclusions can be drawn from a nil-nil draw?

Defensively, the Red Bull were shaky but ultimately held on. Waterreus made two splendid saves, but needlessy bobbled an easy ball which easily could've resulted in a Crew goal and half-heartedly waved at Ned Grabavoy's 87th minute shot which rattled off the upright. Seth Stammler, Carlos Mendes and Todd Dunivant were solid, if unspectacular, while Marvell Wynne was totally torched several times, including twice by Joseph Ngwenya on the exact same inside-out move, cutting from the left wing into the box.

On the plus side, Dema Kovalenko and Claudio Reyna were terrific breaking up Crew forays into the Red Bull third of the pitch and have already established an intuitive relationship in the defensive midfield. Dave van den Bergh showed flashes of offensive intelligence and ability, but the early struggles of youngster Jozy Altidore and veteran John Wolyniec up top and newbie Dan Richards out wide left him with few options and precious little opportunity for connecting play.

Altidore's match can be summed up in one play, where his first touch failed him miserably in the Crew box, as a ball at his feet was played up over his head into the path of two Columbus defenders. Jozy then justified his slot in the starting lineup by promptly turning the two defenders, lowering his left shoulder to gain a yard of space and firing a great shot which flashed across the goalmouth past the keeper and just wide of the far post. Wolyniec, on the other hand, seemed to age before our eyes as the match progressed, getting slower and slower and grayer and grayer until the mercy of the final whistle. The effort and industry in the box are there, but this match proved nothing if not that Wolyniec can best serve the club coming off the bench rather than starting. Richards unleashed his blazing speed a few times, but to little actual effect. If his touches and ability to hold the ball don't improve, and Markus Schoop is destined for an extended stay on the injured list, the Red Bull will need an upgrade on the wing.

A slightly pudgy-looking Clint Mathis came on in the 61st minute and his touches were true and his passes were sharp. If fitness allows, The Cletus should be installed in the Red Bull starting lineup quickly, perhaps even next Sunday. Sinisa Ubiparipovic came on late and didn't make any glaring errors in his first Major League Soccer action.

On the Crew side, Frankie Hejduk was all over the field and rarely out of position, Eddie Gaven was protective of the ball while confident enough to make incisive, positive, attacking decisions and Grabavoy did enough dirty work in the middle of the pitch for two players. Like the Red Bull, however, it's hard to get a solid read on Columbus due to the windy, freezing temperatures and stolid, choppy nature of the game itself. Either both teams are pretty good, or both are lousy. Or they were just cold. We shall see as the season progresses.

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