Ben Schneider of Once A Metro, SB Nation's New York Red Bulls blog, and I exchanged three questions ahead of tonight's Union-Red Bulls game.
tBG: Without Thierry Henry in the line up, due to a red card he picked up against Sporting Kansas City, does Hans Backe choose Juan Agudelo or push Dane Richards up to partner with Luke Rodgers?
OAM: As is the case with many questions involving Backe, there are two answers: what he should do, and what he will do. Juan Agudelo has not progressed as a footballer this season -- if anything, his inadequacies have become more clear. However, he is a far better option to start alongside Rodgers.
Richards isn't a particularly good striker at the best of times; he tends to get more space wide on the right than through the middle, which makes him a bigger threat going down the wing. Unfortunately for New York, he hasn't rediscovered his great form from the end of last season, and has regressed towards the head-down-runner Dane Richards of old. Agudelo is a tremendously frustrating player who has yet to develop the passing skills, positional intelligence, and vision required to be an excellent striker, but is still a better option than Richards because of his ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Which is the object of the game, I've been told.
That's what Backe should do, but it's not what he will do. According to reports from training this week, Richards has been practicing as a striker, so he will partner Luke Rodgers to form one of the shortest forward pairings in league history. Onwards to disaster.
tBG: Is Red Bull in Austria insane, or does Backe and general manager Eric Soler deserve another season after what has occurred this year?
OAM: Barring an amazing playoff run a la 2008 (which will not happen, I can guarantee it), both Solér and Backe should be gone. According to Solér, Backe will be back next year no matter what happens -- even if we don't make the playoffs. Of course, in that situation, it may not be Solér who gets to make that call. This team has the second-highest payroll in the league, and the second-fewest points per dollar spent.
There is a long list of baffling roster decisions, trades, and in-game tactical choices that simply don't make sense. New York has spent hundreds of thousands of valuable salary cap money on players who have been injured for the whole season, guys who have never set foot on the pitch in league play, and wasted international slots and discoveries on players who are nowhere near good enough. Solér has traded away all but one of the solid 2010 Super Draft class, and thrown away much of the future of the team; this should lead to a win-now team of experienced stars... but that team hasn't been winning. And that not-winning business is largely due to Backe's inability to change tactics, make substitutions, motivate players, ensure the fitness of the team, and generally do his job. The Red Bulls can play good football (they have, at times, although rarely), but Backe hasn't gotten them to do so anywhere near consistently.
tBG: If Rafael Marquez remains in the midfield, who starts alongside Tim Ream? And what is wrong this season with the American international center back?
OAM: The legend that is Stephen Keel will start in the other centerback slot, as he has in every game since Rafa was moved up into midfield. Tim Ream has gone to shit ever since he cleared off the line from Landon Donovan way back in May. New York's defense had been excellent until then (two goals conceded in seven games), and has been largely atrocious since. He certainly hasn't been helped by Márquez's constant international call-ups and injuries, or his own poor performances (in rare appearances) for the US. Ream benefited from a settled pairing with veteran partners Mike Petke and Carlos Mendes last year, and the instability of this season combined with a lack of defensive cover in New York's midfield has sent him off the rails.
Projected line up?
Red Bulls (4-4-2): Frank Rost; Jan Gunnar Solli, Tim Ream, Stephen Keel, Roy Miller; Joel Lindpere, Rafael Márquez, Teemu Tainio, Mehdi Ballouchy; Luke Rodgers, Dane Richards
3-0 Philadelphia. Mehdi "I'm #*$&, trade me" Ballouchy bags a hat-trick of own goals.