May 30, 2016
Red Bulls on the rise, NYC FC still trying to figure out itself at home, Cosmos on the verge of clinching berth
By Michael Lewis
Bradley Wright-Phillips has found his form again and that is not good new for Red Bulls opponents.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
With the Red Bulls and New York City FC heading toward the Copa America Centenario break and the Cosmos a game away from the end of the spring season, this just might be the right time to assess where the teams have been and where they are headed.
Red Bulls resurrection
Any thoughts about the demise of the Red Bulls (6-7-1, 19 points) just might be a bit premature. They got off to that nightmarish 1-6 start but have rebounded quite nicely with a 5-1-1 streak in their last seven games. That has helped to be move up to second place in the rather mediocre Eastern Conference, only a point behind the Philadelphia Union (5-3-5, 20).
Hamstring problems and center back availability and headaches doomed the Red Bulls in the early going, but with more defenders healthy head coach Jesse Marsch actually has more options to consider on the backline.
In fact, lost in the shuffle of Bradley Wright-Phillips' resurgence, is a defense that has recorded three consecutive shutouts. Quite a rebound for a team that allowed 20 goals in its first 11 games.
As for BWP, well, I think he is back after striking five times in his last two matches. He is a streaky goal-scorer and when he goes on a tear, all I can tell opposing defenses is to watch out and tell goalkeepers don't hurt your back taking the ball out of the net after he scores.
I will let you in on a little secret. Last week I voted for Dax McCarty for player of the week. Yes, both Dax and BWP scored twice in the Red Bulls' 7-0 demolition of City in the Hudson River Derby, but I felt that McCarty's early goal set the tone of the match and his second goal, only minutes into the second half, stifled whatever comeback NYC FC was considering. Besides, how often does Dax score twice in an MLS match? Well, this was the first time. In a week of hat-trick across the league, it looks like I will vote for Wright-Phillips this time. His natural hat-trick 27 minutes into the game was the fastest three goals scored by an MLS player at the start of a match.
And I'll go out on the limb and say that BWP has gotten his mojo back.
The only downside to the break is that the Red Bulls won't be back in action, at least in the league, until June 19 when they welcome the Seattle Sounders to Red Bull Arena. They will take on the winner of this Wednesday's Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup encounter between the Rochester Rhinos (USL) and Lansdowne Bhoys (Cosmopolitan Soccer League) in the fourth round of the competition on June 15.
Mind-boggling NYC FC
This is how mind-boggling NYC FC has been this season.
The second-year MLS club has more wins on the road (three) than the Red Bulls and Cosmos combined (two). Yet, City can't win at home if its life depended on it. It appeared NYC FC was ready to secure a 2-1 victory over Orlando City FC Sunday before Kevin Molino's late strike lifted the visitors into a 2-2 draw at Yankee Stadium.
In seven of eight home matches, City dropped points, which is, well, mind-boggling. The team is only 1-2-5 at the stadium and only eight points (that translates roughly into a 3-5 mark, which is unacceptable anywhere in the world).
Yet, when the club hits the road, it finds ways to win with an impressive 3-2-1 and 10 points.
Mind-boggling, simply mind-boggling.
Yet, NYC finds itself in fourth place at 4-4-6 and 18 points.
If the team had to play all of its games on the road, there's no telling how well City would fare. But alas, like every team on this planet, Patrick Vieira's troops must play half of their games in the same place, even if it is primarily a baseball park.
That is where NYC FC's problems begin. They have to cram a soccer pitch within the confines of the stadium, making it the smallest in the league (110 X 70 yards). That has not helped the team's playing style, which included a build-up from the back.
City is coming off two mind-boggling results -- a 7-0 defeat to the Red Bulls on their home turf and a 2-2 draw that felt like a loss.
Actually, the side played quite well against Orlando City, dominating possession and limiting its foes scoring chances while it used head coach Patrick Vieira’s attacking formation that included three midfielders and three forwards. As time was running out, the team allowed a devastating stoppage-time goal that snatched two points from its grasp.
Whether it is bad luck, had karma, a loss of focus and concentration or something else, it just seems NYC FC finds ways just to do enough at home to give away points.
You have to wonder how much other damage those last two matches did to the team and how strong the team's psyche is after Sunday's result. We'll find out soon enough when City hosts Real Salt Lake in its final league match before the break Thursday before playing the winner of Wednesday's Cosmos-Jersey Express Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup match on June 15.
It will be Vieira's charge to make sure the last two results don't metastasize into something worse.
Champions Cosmos vie for another title
The Cosmos (6-3-0, 18) are in a position to clinch the NASL spring crown and a berth in November's playoffs if they win at the Fort Lauderdale Strikers Saturday night.
They haven't been imposing this year, but have had plenty of depth to overcome injuries, international call-ups and surprise player trades.
Entering their 10th and final game of the spring, they have the best goal-differential in the league (eight), have scored more goals (14) and allowed the least (six).
They were a perfect 5-0-0 at home, outscoring their foes, 9-1, but have been a disappointing 1-3-0 on the road.
Last Saturday's encounter wasn't much to write home about. While the Cosmos dominated possession, they could not find the net until Danny Szetela tallied in the second half with the hosts enjoying a man advantage after a Rayo OKC red card. The game got uglier later on as two
Head coach Giovanni Savarese's attack has been about sharing the wealth as nine players have found the back of the net to date. No one has scored more than three goals (Venezuelan midfielder Juan Arango leads the way with three goals and three assists), followed by Jairo Arrieta, Adam Moffat and Yohandry Orozco with two goals apiece.
While the Cosmos historically have been synonymous with great goal-scorers, it has been their defense that has been the star of the team -- the backline, goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer and team defense.
This version of the Cosmos might not necessarily have the star power of last year's team -- ie. Marcos Senna and Raul -- its depth could take the team a long way this season -- all the way to a third Soccer Bowl championship in four seasons.