Photo by ISIphotos.com
Now that we have let some days pass since the Red Bulls convincing 2-0 victory against Real Salt Lake, we can try and take a more measured and reasonable look at the team's first win of the season and what real trends we can draw from it.
By now, much of the hype following Saturday's result will have subsided some, which is a good thing considering what was being said after Saturday. Some of the same Red Bulls fans who were questioning Juan Pablo Angel's drive and thought Kevin Goldthwaite should be waived are now calling Angel the best player in the league again and saying Goldthwaite could be an MLS all-star.
Swings in perception like those are par for the course for a club that has put its fan base through hell for the better part of 13 years. Let's put the team's performance into perspective as the club prepares to face Eastern Conference foe Kansas City on Thursday night.
While Macoumba Kandji and Kevin Goldthwaite were the players receiving the most praise after Saturday, there were plenty of other promising signs to take away from the RSL match. Here are some:
Jon Conway's presence boosts the back-line
It must be said that the addition of Alfredo Pacheco was clearly a big upgrade for the Red Bulls defense, the return of a confident and focused Jon Conway provided an even bigger boost. While Conway isn't known for making the crazy acrobatic saves (though he made some good ones Saturday), what Conway does is instill confidence in his back-line because he is constantly communicating with his defenders to put them in good positions.
While Cepero is a promising young goalkeeper, he lacks the experience to command a defense. He's too busy making sure he's taking care of his own positioning and responsibilities. With the Red Bulls lacking a truly vocal leader among its defenders (Mike Petke is close but is out of favor right now), Conway's ability to organize should help the Red Bulls defense come together.
Jorge Rojas had more room to operate
With Dane Richards and Macoumba Kandji providing dangerous threats in attack, the Real Salt Lake was stretched apart enough to give Jorge Rojas more room to roam than he has seen all season. The result was a more involved Rojas, who showed confidence on the ball and moved around well. He didn't notch a goal or an assist (though he came close with a beautiful free kick), but Rojas certainly gained some confidence from the performance and could be poised for better efforts in the near future.
Khano being Khano
There are few players more frustrating to watch than Khano Smith, who seems to float in between states of dedication and aloofness that leave you wondering just how committed he is to the team. Could it just be his laid-back island demeanor? Whatever it is, there is no denying that he goes through phases when his play just isn't good enough.
Here's the thing though. He also has moments where he can dazzle. Whether it's winning a header in the area that nearly led to an Angel goal, or trying to slide a perfect through-pass that nearly found its target, you can see the signs that made Juan Carlos Osorio believe he can mold Smith into an impact player. If Smith can't make the necessary changes, Danleigh Borman or Jorge Rojas very well could wind up on the left flank.
As hard as it is to believe that the same player who stunk up the joint vs. Seattle in the season opener is also the same central defender who put together one of the better defensive efforts in recent Red Bulls history, the truth is Goldthwaite is capable of being that good. No less a critic than Juan Pablo Angel has stated repeatedly that he thinks Goldthwaite is one of the league's most underrated defenders and worthy of a national team look. Such talk might sound like nonsense to some, but Goldthwaite's performance vs. RSL show why Angel is such a fan.
Angel battles the pain
Juan Pablo Angel tried as hard as he could, but he couldn't hide the fact that pain in his back/hamstring was affecting him, and has been affecting him this season. It gets a bit easier to play with pain when you actually have some service coming your way and a forward next to you who can pressure defenses.
If the midfield can keep playing like it did on Saturday, and Kandji can continue to impress, not only will Angel find his goal-scoring touch, but he may even be able to sit out a game here or there to rest his 33-year-old frame.
So what should we expect from the Red Bulls on Thursday? As good as they were vs. Real Salt Lake, you can expect several lineup changes, which makes sense considering the team has a crucial home game vs. D.C. United on Sunday. Carlos Johnson will step in for suspended Jeremy Hall, while Juan Pietravallo could be called on to start and build on his solid showing vs. Houston two weeks ago. Danleigh Borman is another player who should get a start on Thursday.
Here is a potential lineup vs. KC:
What do you think of the Red Bulls performance on Saturday? What stuck out for you? What are you hoping to see from the Red Bulls on Thursday? Which players would you like to see included in the starting lineup?
Share your thoughts below.