Monday, April 23, 2007

Zebras, Dynamo Can't Stop First-Place Red Bull

It was clear in the first few minutes of Saturday night's Red Bull-Dynamo showdown at the Meadowlands that Houston wasn't capable, willing or even interested in matching their hosts within the parameters of the Rules of the Game. Before we finished our first warm, watered-down beer, speedy winger Dane Richards was literally grabbed by the waist -- with both hands -- and thrown to the turf not once, but twice, by Dynamo defenders unable to dispossess the pacey Jamaican by conventional means. (We'll get to the Jozy Altidore situation later). Luckily for Houston, however, the myopic Referee thought this was perfectly OK, setting up the defining confrontation of the evening: Could the Red Bull keep their cool, stick to their gameplan and overcome both the officiating and the defending Major League Soccer champions? Answer: Yes!

It wasn't easy, though, as Dwayne DeRosario was inexplicably allowed to remain on the pitch after openly, blatantly, unquestionably, indisputably, purposefully handling the ball in the box in order to prevent a Red Bull goal. Clint Mathis' subsequent PK miss was a bit jarring, but more shocking, to the crowd and Red Bull players and staff, was DeRosario's continued participation in the game, despite his transgression. Making matters worse, the aforementioned Cletus was then harshly given a straight red for admittedly a foul, but in no circumstances worthy of a sending-off.

Down to 10-men against the defending champs, the Red Bull responded with the kind of grind-it-out and grab-the-three-points 1-nil home victory of which championships are made. We know...we's way early, but the fact remains: Wins like this build confidence and character, two things that've been as scarce in the Land of the MetroStars-Red Bull as nice weather.

Quick hits on the match:

Catch Me If You Can: Jozy Altidore's combination of strength and skill is something to behold. With Eddie Robinson (a big boy with a nasty streak to boot) and Ryan Cochrane tag-teaming him, it got ugly fast. To his credit, Altidore kept battling and finally got the breakthrough via a terrific Hunter Freeman feed, but there were times Jozy took to the ground a little easily. The kid's only 17, and still learning, but when he figures out how to battle this rough treatment, without resorting to histrionics (a la the lamentable display of DeRosario, who cried to the Dynamo 12th Man ... er ... sorry ... Ref ... every time he lost the ball) he will be one of the most feared strikers in the league. Sadly, here's a prediction: Catch him now while you can, folks. This will be Jozy's last year with the Red Bull and MLS. A player with this much upside and youth is heading abroad for Big Money.

Undercover Brother: In case you hadn't noticed, RBNY captain Claudio Reyna returned to action after a one-game injury absence, but his subdued, understated performance (think Bill Murray in Lost in Translation) suggests he was not 100-percent. On the plus side, Reyna was out there, tracking DeRosario much of the evening, except for one or two occasions where the Dynamo talisman's superior speed left the erstwhile Captain America in the dust. Playing through injuries is a requirement of leadership and Claudio stepped up on Saturday night. Here's hoping he's better in Dallas.

Benchwarmers: John Wolyniec and Seth Stammler were stellar off the bench for the tiring Red Bull in the second half. With Altidore mercifully summoned to the sidelines after sustaining no less than 10 Robinson-directed muggings, Woly provided the perfect change-of-pace, chasing down loose Dynamo passes, setting up in good positions and generally keeping Houston's backline honest. Stammler came on and promptly blew up two successive Dynamo counterattacts, and despite not entering the game until the 54th-minute, he kicked every single Houston player (barring sheltered goalkeeper Pat Onstad) at least once. Great stuff. Joe Vide came on real late, but with too little time to get a fair reading.

The Thin Red Line: Three games, three clean sheets. The Red Bull backline and keeper Ronald Waterreus are stingier than Paulie Walnuts at the Best Western breakfast buffet. Freeman and Todd Dunivant allowed nothing ... zero ... zilch ... down the flanks, while Jeff Parke and Carlos Mendes were solid in the middle (full disclosure: we'd pencil in Stammler as a starter if it were our call.) Waterreus also displayed his much-heralded distribution skills, pumping balls up to Tall Drink of Water Dave Van den Bergh with accuracy and spraying the ball around to Richards and Altidore when Houston's Kelly Gray started man-marking the big Dutchman.

Ride With the Devil: Dema Kovalenko was demon on the night. The hard-charging 18-to-18 effort by the 29-year-old Ukrainian didn't directly contribute to the match-winning goal, but his indefatigable performance in the middle of the pitch was surely a key -- if not the key -- factor in the victory. Dema may not be racking up Fantasy Points, but he's shaping up as the most indispensable Red Bull of 2007.

Little Men Tate: Eight-year-old expert Leo (an EPL fanatic thanks to Fox Soccer Channel) summed up the Dynamo: "They're Bolton. They kick you and pull your shirt and throw you on the ground, and then when you take the ball off them, they dive (YouTube) and start crying to the ref. They're Bolton." Thank you, Leo, and now over to six-year-old expert, Deco, who questioned the officiating: "Why does the Ref hate the Red Bulls?" I don't know, Deco, I don't know.


Martha said...

Man, I think we were watching different Wolys or something. The guy I saw maybe chased a single ball, but he spent 99% of his time standing and ... doing nothing. It was infuriating to watch -- I wish I'd see the Woly you saw!

(Love the site, btw, even when we're talking about different Wolys.)

Anonymous said...

Martha, Maybe I was influenced by the nuts singing behind the goal on the tunnel side of the stadium, whose hilarious version of "Woly-Woly" sang to the tune of "Wooly-Wooly" had us all in stitches.