July 25, 2016
Front and center remarks about the center backs of the Red Bulls, NYC FC and Cosmos
By Michael Lewis
Cosmos center back Jimmy Ockford made a late foul in the penalty area that helped cost his team a win last weekend.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
One weekend, two games, three teams.
This past weekend did not go exactly as planned for two of the New York pro soccer teams, with the Red Bulls emerging only unscathed and New York City FC and the Cosmos going down to disappointing defeats. OK, the Cosmos tied, but it felt like a loss.
Here's a quick analysis -- aka on the good, the bad and the ugly on the teams, centering on their, well, center backs :
The Red Bulls won the battle and the season series over NYC FC, but will they win the war?
"War" in MLS means the regular season and the playoffs, two entirely different entities.
There is little question the Red Bulls can get motivated for one big game. But can they show consistency and stay away from injuries (especially at the center back position) over the long run? If they can, they can finish up the regular season quite nicely.
Earlier this season they were in crisis mode in central defense as Gideon Baah and Ronald Zubar were sidelined with hamstring injuries and Damien Perrinelle still was recuperating from last year's knee injury. With the addition of Aurelien Collin, they almost have an embarrassment of riches at the position (even though Baah has been sidelined with a serious injury). They also always have the option of recalling Karl Ouimette on loan to Jacksonville Armada FC, but head coach Jesse Marsch would prefer not to do that at the present time. In a pinch, Chris Duvall can be used.
Their big three of Collin, Zubar and Perrinelle won't win many awards for being genteel. They play a take-no-prisoners game and they will accrue their share of yellow cards and red cards. Translated: every once in a while someone will be suspended for a match.
If they can stay healthy, though, the Red Bulls could be a force down the stretch.
The way Bradley Wright-Phillips and company penetrated the middle of the City backline, head coach Patrick Vieira should be scared, very scared.
Quite frankly, I have never been enamored with the tandem of Frederic Brillant and Jeffeson Mena. Brillant leads the league in own goals with two and his handball in the penalty area set up Sacha Kljestan's penalty kick. Mena hasn't been as consistent as I would have liked. Don't know why Jason Hernandez has been pushed into the background. I thought he acquitted himself well. Perhaps he isn't in Vieira's grand master starting plans. Who knows?
Perhaps new signing Maxime Chanot from Luxembourg will be the answer or an answer.
With the allocation money City has received from D.C. United for Patrick Mullins, hopefully, hopefully, they will go after another center back or another striker. As I've said before, heaven forbid if David Villa is sidelined for a long period of time. They have no striker who has shown an inclination he can fill the net on consistent basis.
In fact, we'll get a preview of that Saturday when goalkeeper Tim Howard and the Colorado Rapids come to town. Villa will be a spectator because he accrued his fifth yellow card of the season. It was for a really stupid play, encroachment on a free kick. As a veteran, World Cup winner and a team captain, he should have known better.
Perhaps the heat and sun got to him on a long, long day at Red Bull Arena.
Still, the bottom line, so to speak, is that City is still a first-place team, one of the MLS surprise sides this season. How they will bounce back against the Rapids at Yankee Stadium without Villa and outside backs Ethan White (red card) and RJ Allen (yellow card suspension), it remains to be seen.
The Cosmos have shown they can finish their plays. They can't, however, finish off their games. In other words, they have experiencing major -- major -- problems closing out games on the road.
Exhibit Z (well, at least it seems that way) came Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. They had a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes and lost it and settled for a frustrating 2-2 draw.
Whether its irony, bad judgment or the soccer gods getting back at the Cosmos, the equalizing goal, a penalty-kick conversion in stoppage time, was scored by former English international Joe Cole after center back Jimmy Ockford took down Tom Heinemann close to the penalty spot (more irony). It looked like Ockford did not exactly make a smart play in the penalty area with so little time left even in injury time.
Minutes prior, Ockford had come on for forward Lucky Mkosana, giving the Cosmos five backline players as the Seattle Sounders loanee became the third center back. You would think that a defense would be solidified with those numbers in the back even with a desperate host side trying to knot things up.
And speaking of the position behind the back four. Unless Jimmy Maurer is injured, you have to wonder if head coach Giovanni Savarese is starting a goalkeeping problem and/or controversy. He is switching Brian Holt and Maurer way too much in the fall season. Don't think that is healthy for either player, especially Maurer, who backstopped the team to the North American Soccer League championship last season.
For most of his tenure as the Cosmos head man, Savarese generally has used one goalkeeper, barring an occasional injury or giving a backup an opportunity to play.
You wonder if that will have consequences down the line.
Bottom line: the Cosmos are a good team, but not a very good team. As I have said in the past, they are excellent (and undefeated) at home but are unpredictable on the road.
At the present time, they are far from a championship side and I don't see them winning a consecutive crown. That could change if they can get their act together away from Shuart Stadium (they play at Edmonton Wednesday night). I am still waiting.