It was supposed to be the Beckham show on Saturday night at Giants Stadium but Dave Van Den Bergh, Jorge Rojas and Juan Pablo Angel gave the Red Bulls fans in attendance a reason to smile.
At least before Landon Donovan stole the show with a late equalizer, something he’s done in the past, to help the Galaxy salvage a tie and force the home team to think about its missed opportunity to close ground in the tight Eastern Conference.
SBI correspondents Andrew Keh and Nathan Henderson-James took in the action and gave us their takes on the match.
Reyna replacement shines in debut
By ANDREW KEH
My day at the stadium began with a celebrity sighting of sorts.
As my friends and I were disassembling our grill, we were invited to play flip-cup—that old American pastime—by our neighbors in the adjacent space. These young men, judging by the near-constant sight and sound of errant ping-pong balls in and around their set-up that afternoon, had been enjoying themselves for quite some time, and when we sidled over their way, they had something very important to tell us.
“This guy,” the young men said, pointing to one of their own, a willowy kid with brown hair and quiet eyes, “is Claudio Reyna’s cousin.” They made him pull his driver’s license out of his wallet, and it did indeed bear the family name. “Believe us,” they said. “Nobody ever believes us.”
I can’t say if I did actually believe them. The kid didn’t say or do anything afterward that suggested he was lying or telling the truth. But in the spirit of my surroundings I played along. We introduced ourselves—”Remember the name,” one kid kept saying as he told me his name, which I quickly forgot—and some good times were had before we dispersed to find our separate ways into the stadium.
Whether or not young Reyna was who he said he was turned out to be less significant than the fact that the elder was on my mind as the match got underway. Jorge Rojas, the man effectively taking Reyna’s place on the squad, was in the starting lineup to make his Red Bulls debut, and my contemplation of the former team captain, albeit brief, provided an interesting counterpoint to the action on the field as it got underway.
Rojas, it soon became clear, will contribute more to the Red Bulls this season, on the field at least, than Reyna ever could in the late, late autumn of his career before his retirement last week. He is an ideal player, with his skill and willingness to make timed forays forward, to roam above the five-midfielder formation Juan Carlos Osorio has preferred for much of the season. And unlike Reyna, he can run at full speed without us worrying that he might fall down.
Since the prime of Clint Mathis’ career the Red Bulls have sorely lacked in one department dear to the hearts of soccer fans around the world: imagination. But their two goals on Saturday, both stemming from assists by Rojas—who, as it happens, inherited Mathis’ lucky number 13—showed plenty of it. His back heel in the first half sent Dave Van Den Bergh into an open space, where he ripped a right-footed shot into the bottom left corner of the goal, and his through ball in the second half opened up space for Juan Pablo Angel to turn Greg Vanney inside out before scoring the type of goal that reminded us once again of his exclusive class.
The masses—46,754 to be specific—turned out to get a look at David Beckham, and for the second year in the row the Englishman’s presence drew a crowd several hundred percent times larger than average at Giants Stadium. But perhaps Beckham is still confused by that which is known in these parts as “turf,” or perhaps it was that famous New Jersey humidity, because none of his famous kicks, save for one beautiful, diagonally ball to Edson Buddle in the first half, seemed quite on point.
Instead, it was Landon Donovan who was most impressive that balmy night. As good as Rojas was in the attacking midfield role, Donovan, when deployed there, is MLS’s finest. His speed and finishing ability make him so dangerous when making runs forward, and his work-rate is devastating. Donovan—who I must add looks more and more like Dave Matthews (of the eponymous band) with each recession of his hairline (bright, orange shoes won’t help you, old man)—stole a point away from the Red Bulls with a fortuitous goal born of relentless work in injury time and clanged one off the post with the last kick of the game just to show Red Bull fans that their team, for all of their hard work, is the type capable of throwing it all away at any time.
And so, with his team unable to take all three points and the new man Rojas providing a clear upgrade to his “cousin” in central midfield, it was a bittersweet evening, no doubt, for the younger Reyna.
Galaxy shows heart in comeback
By NATHAN HENDERSON-JAMES
I’m going to stop being so negative about the Los Angeles Galaxy. I like being pointed and blunt, but I’ve been treading closer to mean. These guys play futbol for a living (and in MLS, "living" is loosely defined) and I… write this column. So. Pointed and blunt, yes. Mean, no.
One of the reasons I made that "no-meanness" resolution was the game the G’s played in Giants Stadium last Saturday against the New York Red Bulls. They displayed as much grit and determination this game as they have the entire season. It reminded me of their fight-back-tie on the road against Real Salt Lake back in May. It is a real pleasure to experience this team’s belief in itself and its never-say-die determination. That spirit makes up in small ways for the clear weaknesses plaguing the team.
Ruud Gullit lined up Carlos Ruiz and Edson Buddle up top with Landon Donovan and David Beckham on the wings. I like an MLS coach who puts all his best weapons on the field at the same time, but I was surprised to see Donovan on the left. It wasn’t wildly successful as a tactic, but it wasn’t a failed experiment either.
What didn’t work so well (here comes the pointed and blunt) was the center back partnership of Greg Vanney and Troy Roberts. A partnership of necessity with Abel Xavier released and Sean Franklin injured, it was at fault on Juan Pablo Angel’s beauty of a goal in the 71st minute. I don’t think I’ve seen a defender this season so cleanly faked out of his socks as Vanney was on that play. Can a newly-acquired Eduardo Dominguez and healthy Franklin staunch the bleeding in the back? I don’t know, but they can’t be any worse.
You can see several previous columns for comments on how a lot of these problems start in the midfield and that wasn’t different this game. An Alvaro Pires giveaway in the center of the field led directly to Dave van den Bergh’s powerful right-footer that tied the game up in the 35th minute.
However, the game was not all mistakes and poor play. In fact, the game itself was a fairly exciting match-up between two teams playing at the same level. The LA offense delivered its 14th multi-goal game of the season, started in the first half by the hard work of Edson Buddle to carry the ball far in the box and find an almost completely surrounded Ruiz at the top of the 6-yard box for the put-away header. This was Ruiz’s first goal of the season and first in Galaxy uniform since 2004.
Then there was Donovan’s wonder strike in stoppage time. I thought that was a cross. Maybe Donovan did too. Jon Conway certainly did, distracted as he was by a Buddle run into the box. But that cross curled neatly into the bottom corner of the far post to bring the Galaxy level and escape from Giants Stadium with a much-needed point.
Steve Cronin played his best MLS game ever on Saturday making a couple of clutch stops on sure goals, and Troy Roberts also made a huge block in front of an empty net to preserve the tie. I’m not a big Roberts fan, but he won me over for the game.
In the end, the G’s have only beaten an Eastern Conference team once this season (in about eight tries). However, if they can figure out the offensive partnership that showed flashes of brilliance throughout the game and slow down the torrent of opposing goals it is going to be an exciting second half of the season.
Until World Cup qualifying.
But that’s a worry for another day.
Oh, and congrats to Real Salt Lake for sitting in first place in the craptacular Western Conference for the first time ever at this point in the season.