Friday, May 25, 2007

Red Bull Strike a Blow for The Beautiful Game

Last night, The Red Bull of Major League Soccer, confronted with the absence of their two best fullbacks and their top holding midfielder, did what storied European clubs Liverpool and AC Milan refused to do earlier this week, they put their most creative, attacking players on the field and let them play The Beautiful Game. The result, both on the pitch and among the die-hard fans scattered around cavernous Giants Stadium, was also quite fetching: A 3-nil victory over the Chicago Fire and about 9,000 or so very happy customers.

Bruce Arena, to his credit, rejected the negative and embraced the light, putting forwards Juan Pablo Angel, John Wolyniec and Jozy Altidore in the lineup. Attacking midfielders Dema Kovalenko and Dave Van den Bergh were pressed into action at fullback, with speedy Dane Richards and playmaker Clint Mathis joining out-of-position Jozy in the midfield. And it worked beautifully, with skill and creativity and movement overwhelming Chicago from the opening whistle (two goals in the first three minutes) and punctuated by a cool Angel finish at the end.

This is the way the game should be played, unlike the Liverpool-Milan European Cup Final, which featured two lone strikers (don't gimme Gerrard was a forward, he was a fifth midfielder given free rein to make runs into the box, just like Kaka for AC) and eight -- count'em, eight -- other midfielders charged with one negative task: stop the other guys from scoring. And the two forwards who did start were Pippo Inzaghi, famous for goals which bounce off his body (in Wednesday's first goal, his arm, YouTube), and Dirk Kuyt, who is a great defensive player for a forward. Meanwhile, Craig Bellamy, who scored one goal and created another (YouTube) in Liverpool's thrilling victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp, never got on the field, and Peter Crouch, who was only the second-top scorer in the entire competition with six goals, was held out until far too late in Athens.

Unlike Rafa Benitez, Arena, at least for now, realizes the potency of his talented group of attackers -- Angel, Altidore, Mathis, Richards and Wolyniec -- and is encouraging them to perform their magic in pursuit of MLS Cup 2007. If last night's match is any indication, the adulation and support of long-suffering RBNY/Metros fans is not far behind, as the laughter and optimism among the crowd filing out of Giants Stadium was as noticeable as it was welcome.

  • A Public Service Advisory For The Logic-Impaired: We are not suggesting The Red Bull are better than Liverpool or AC Milan, which would be akin to saying Miss Piggy is hotter than Miss Scarlett. Not. We merely posit the opinion that this week, The Red Bull put their most talented, exiting players on the field and encouraged them to go forward and score goals, while Benitez and Ancelotti decidedly did not.
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