Dax McCarty is a Good Guy

Courtesy of NewYorkRedBulls.com
Courtesy of NewYorkRedBulls.com
During one of my visits to Montclair State University this season, I caught up with Red Bulls Midfielder Dax McCarty. While I am not part of the media or a reporter, I simply approached Dax for a quick interview on some random questions.  And I can definitely vouch for Dax as a “Good Guy.” As you know, Dax McCarty won the “Good Guy” award by selection from the NY Red Bulls media where Dax never failed to talk to any reporters and much less turn down any questions. Now that the season is over, with the Los Angeles Galaxy taking home their second consecutive trophy, here’s something to get you started through this off-season.
Where did you originally grow up?
I was born and raised in Winter Park Florida. I was born in Winter Park Hospital and I lived in Winter Park my whole life. I went to Winter Park High School for two years. I went to three different high schools.  After a few years of high school, I went to play for the Under 17 U.S. National Team in residency.
Did you have a player you idolized growing up?
I don’t think it was just one player. It was more the teams I loved, like Manchester United. There was one guy I always made a point to watch when he was on the field and that was Zinedine Zidane. I just thought the way that he played, the way he moved, the way he manipulated the ball. I think he was one of the classiest midfielders I’ve ever seen play. He was a guy I really looked up to.
Is MLS a league you followed growing up?
It was. I followed the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny before they folded in 2001. I followed them and I always followed the leauge. It was important for me as a young soccer player to know that we had a domestic league that I could look forward to playing in someday.
You’ve  recently moved into the city, how is life in Manhattan?
Life’s good. I’m a huge foodie so I’ll eat anything. There’s a really great restaurant I can actually see from my place, called Malatesta Trattoria malatestatrattoria.com, which is an Italian place with fantastic food. There’s another place I love – a Thai place called Pinto that has the best Pad Thai in town, in my opinion. I’ve been to Broadway a few times, 5th Ave to hit the shops, Central Park and Union Square are great for relaxing.
nyc life
Is central defensive midfield a natural position for you? Did you grow up playing midfield?
It’s not something I grew up playing actually. I was more of an attack-minded midfielder, but as you get to higher levels, you realize you have to work on both sides of the ball so I worked on my defending game a lot. I played midfield with FC Dallas, but when I came to New York, Backe needed me to play defensive midfield and I think it suits my strengths. I’d like to get forward more often, but on a team with so many talented players, you want to help in any way you can and if it’s defending, that’s where I want to be.
Is there a nickname you particularly like?
They’re all funny, to be honest. I love Ginga’ Ninja – that one sticks the most. It’s especially great when they say it on Telefutura. I don’t mind; they’re all good.
Photo credit: Antony Lin @copaantl98
Photo credit: Antony Lin @copaantl98
Photo credit: Antony Lin @copantl98

Red Bulls vs Dynamo Preview, An Alternate Perspective

Tim Cahill will make his MLS debut

What’s on the plate for this Friday’s Red Bulls versus Dynamo match? Quite a lot. How about a sold out BBVA Compass stadium, a seven game unbeaten streak for the home side and MLS’ newest DP debut in league play?

To better understand both perspectives on the game, I’ve asked a few questions to a Texian Army supporter Kirsten Heimlich @1morequietnight:

1. What are the Dynamo fans biggest concerns heading into Friday night? (i.e. injuries, matchups, etc)

Will Bruin sat out the Toronto FC game with a bone bruise and may not play. Just got official word that Jermaine Taylor is back from taking care of family business in Jamaica and will be available. That’s a huge boost. Taylor has been a “beast” for us this season.  While Andre Hainault is more (understatement) capable of setting in the role at CB, Caravelle at RB on the other hand is something I’d rather not see against NY. Although he’s been impressive, he’s still a rookie.

2. What has worked for Houston? What player formations? What will be key for a Houston win?

The change from (4-4-2) to a (4-3-3) has settled over this last month and the results have been four wins in a row.  Boniek has been the DP this team has been waiting for.  He’s been a total and complete game-changer for us. 

3. Who should New York watch out for the most?

Probably don’t have to tell you this, but Brad Davis has had six assists in the last four games.  Don’t foul in your defensive half because Davis will make you pay.   

4. What do you feel are Houston’s weaknesses?

A month ago, I would have said our finishing, but now not so much. So really I don’t know.  We are just playing some of the best soccer I can remember us playing in a very long time.  

5. Any buzz on Tim Cahill?

It’s funny, but normally I’d say the Dynamo should worry about Cahill, given how good he is in the air. But Dynamo have one of the best back four (well, three & a hobbit) Boswell, Taylor, and Hainault. They win 99% of all the balls in the air. I actually have a Cahill jersey. 

It seems like Houston is riding an all-time high heading into this game. Their new formation has given them dividends and they’ve been able to get the best out of their newest DP and Brad Davis is on a tear. When you add an in-form Kandji on that left side of midfield, this Dynamo squad is packing a lot of heat. This one will be a tough one for New York as Dax is out with yellow card accumulation and they will be slowly integrating Tim Cahill into the lineup as well as Teemu Tainio, who has been out since March 31. Both players saw action in Tuesday’s game against Tottenham but Backe expects them to both go only 45 minutes in Texas. The biggest issue heading into this game will be who will mark who and how the Red Bulls do on set pieces. If Tainio, Cahill and Henry can somehow dictate the midfield, it might exploit Houston’s three-man midfield. Lade, Solli, or whoever is placed on the wings will definitely have their hands full. New York will need to address their defensive issues first (especially on set pieces) and then worry about their offense. If Red Bulls can avoid a Dynamo blitz, some kind of result is possible especially with having two of their DPs on the field, something has got to give. Is Cahill the missing piece for New York? If Cahill is going to go for one of his trademark header goals, he’ll have to beat Houston’s back four (who have been stellar as of late, allowing only two goals in their last seven games). Cahill though was brought in to orchestrate the midfield, lets hope he can. If the defense doesn’t show up though and RBNY isn’t able to produce anything creative in the final third, it could be a long night for New York.

Red Bulls Just Missing One Piece

Over the last 16 years, the Metrostars (now Red Bulls) have gone through a seemingly endless list of players. While some of them have been world class, even World Cup winners, they have yet to find a winning team worthy of hoisting the MLS Cup.  You can blame the Nicola Caricola curse of ’96, or the long list of foreign coaches who knew nothing about MLS. The truth is no one has been able to find the right mixture. Enter 2012, after starting 9-4-4 the Red Bulls find themselves with the best midway-through the season record in its 16 year club history and all it needs is that one player: a true number 10.

One could argue that despite having the best record in club history up to the halfway point of the season, this team isn’t laudable.

There is a reason why the Red Bulls are fighting amongst the top teams in MLS at the moment. Yes the Red Bulls have thrown away games to Toronto and New England, but look at the beginning of the season when they were firing at will or the stretch when Henry first got injured to the recent victory versus arch-rival D.C. United. It can’t just all be luck. Coach Hans Backe is doing something right, but he’s missing one piece.

One can say that in a performance like last night’s against New England, no CAM in the world could have made a difference. But if you look at the stats, the passes and possession, all NY needed was that last pass that never came. It seemed the entire team relied on Conde to create something when Dax was tied up. NY had everything except a clear direction. Had there been one creative midfielder, the outcome would have been different.  This team has depth and has good support all around, but there’s no Maestro in the midfield no direction. Henry has been the engine to this team’s offense, and when he wasn’t around, good ball movement and brilliant individual efforts have carried this team, but in order to consistently threaten and make a run for MLS Cup, this team needs someone to surround upon.

Henry is a striker and Marquez is a defender; they’re not midfielders, but they’ve picked up slack in that section. Dax McCarty is a defensive midfielder and can’t really be relied on to create an attack. He’s the perfect facilitator for a central attacking midfielder, only there isn’t one. The team can hold the ball and they can move it but that’s about it. It takes Thierry Henry to open himself up for an easy pass or make that slicing pass that sparks a connection with Kenny Cooper. Marquez does similar things, only at an earlier stage he finds the better path going forward, making it easier for midfielders to find an open man or go forward easier.

The team has done well to mask the fact that they might not need a true number 10, but when you have teams figuring you out in marking up Cooper or Henry or so forth, it’s time for that extra push, that catalyst that will bring it all together and give it some order. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a true number 10 out there and he holds the key to NY’s first ever MLS Championship. I just hope we find him soon.

Orlando City is Back!

Courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

Time to take out those scarfs! No, not because of more cold weather, but because the Orlando City Lions are back! On Saturday, February 18th, Orlando City will host Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union at the Citrus Bowl. Kick-off is slated for 7:30pm.
Orlando looks to start their quest to defend their USL Pro Championship with an exhibition game against the Union, a rematch of last year when Orlando upset Philadelphia 1-0.
Philadelphia will look to avenge that loss but will do so without veteran goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon and Union fan-favorite Sebastien Le Toux. Philadelphia will turn to newly signed Colombian forward Lionard Pajoy who sports a decent resume, for their attack along with USMNT-favorite Freddy Adu. 

Orlando City will retain most of the squad that won the 2011 USL Pro Championship, including Jamie Watson who resigned with the Lions in a multi-year contract. The Lions will have to do without Lawerence Olum and Yordany Alvarez this year, but welcome Wayne Rooney’s younger brother John Rooney, who recently played with MLS’ New York Red Bulls.
Rooney will bring some muscle to the midfield and will hopefully click with this Orlando City team that did so well last year in maintaining possession. Hopefully head coach Adrian Heath can bring the best out of Rooney who fared well in New York, but didn’t get much playing time.

This season is shaping up to be a great one with the fanbase already behind this championship team and the addition of John Rooney. Orlando will look to build a dynasty and repeat as USL Champions this year.

After Galaxy Win MLS Cup, Red Bulls should Follow Suit

Well, what do you know, the Los Angeles Galaxy are MLS Cup Champions. Los Angeles defeated  Houston  1-0 in front of a record crowd of over 30,000 at the Home Depot Center last night in Carson, CA.

With the likes of David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, the Galaxy were able to prevail admist the pressure of winning the regular season and hosting MLS Cup, not to mention boasting one of the most expensive teams in MLS history.  It marks the first time an MLS team with a designated player wins MLS Cup. And they certainly made all the difference.

Bruce Arena was able to build a championship team within a few years, but it finally paid off. The Galaxy is a model every MLS team should strive for. This year’s MLS Cup final might have been a tight, defensive and slightly boring affair for the casual fan, but it was a lot better quality and display of soccer than last year’s MLS Cup final that found the Colorado Rapids champions. Soccer is an entertainment sport and the league needs the Galaxy, or other teams in MLS with star players (hinthintRBNYhinthint), to win it. It’s more publicity for the league here in the States, as well as around the world.

The Galaxy was the best structured team in the league this year. LA had great goalkeepers, a solid defense (led by Omar Gonzalez), and an offense that boasted a service specialist in Beckham, an attacking midfielder in Donovan, and a natural striker in Keane. It was a recipe for guaranteed success.

The New York Red Bulls were actually striving for the same thing at one point. They had a natural striker in Thierry Henry, a possession creative midfielder in Rafa Marquez, and an attacking midfielder in Dwayne De Rosario – a team that should have been at the final with LA on paper, considering NY had the highest payroll in MLS.

Somewhere in the season, Hans Backe and Erik Soler mismanaged the team and allowed it to implode. Rafa Marquez was placed in a center back position that exploited promising sophmore Tim Ream, creating a porous defense. They traded away Dwayne De Rosario, who they had just acquired months ago (and who went on to win the MVP award), and Rafa somehow self-destructed at the end of the season just when the team needed him the most.

Hans Backe hit the jackpot by acquiring De Rosario, but apparently thought they would do better with a more defensive holding midfielder. That left the attacking midfielder spot open to Rafa, who simply underachieved. Frank Rost was brought in to solidify the defense, but using a DP spot on a foreign goalkeeper just seemed silly when the U.S. is a land chock full of great keepers.

For 2012, the New York Red Bulls, or any other team in MLS, should follow the Galaxy’s example. Spend money where it counts the most. Build around a creative midfielder, and utilize American talent in supporting roles. The Red Bulls began well this year, but it completely dissolved by year’s end with trading away De Rosario and having their other creative midfielder come up short. For New York, a true attacking central midfielder is needed, a midfield maestro who can dictate the game and feed the offense on a consistent basis. Becks did it for LA all season long, and now they hoist the MLS Cup.


Red Bulls Back Into The Playoffs

Talk about a rollercoaster of a season. After being early-season MLS Cup favorites, to being the biggest bust of all time, the Red Bulls finally booked their trip to the playoffs. Last night the Red Bulls got it done after a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union in front of a sold-out crowd at Red Bull Arena with the Southward including the Empire Supporters Club, Viking Army and the Garden State Supporters leading the way. The Southward’s efforts negated the twelve hundred S.O.B.s that made the trip. Dane Richards became the “Dragon-slayer” and was able to get the single goal after his header attempt hit the post and rebounded off “Man-Dragon” into the net. Red Bulls were able to hold back the Union for the rest of the game getting all three points, securing their postseason berth.

Due to Thierry Henry’s red card suspension, Dane Richards was put up front in place of the Frenchman and did not disappoint. Richards tormented the Philadelphia Union back line all night running at them with Luke Rodgers, pestering them constantly. Dane Richards got on the board early in the game after a great combination between Dax McCarty and Jan Gunnar Solli. Solli got free on the right side and sent in a perfect ball to Richards, who got off an amazing header, hitting the post and rebounding off the Union goalkeeper. The official word would be an own goal but it was all Richards, who isn’t known for his aerial ability, but was great on the play.

The biggest accomplishment of the night though had to be the right side of the midfield which took advantage of the Union’s right flank weakness where McCarty, Rafa Marquez and Solli were able to roam free for several quality crosses and dangerous looks forward.

The backline for Metro came out a little shaky as Tim Ream started off the night with an errant pass towards Keel who had to hustle to kick it out of bounds. One can recall Tim Ream’s implosion when he gifted the ball last spring to Mwanga, who sent Roger Torres in for Philly’s lone goal at PPL Park, defeating the Red Bulls. It was a shame after complete domination by the New York side who had hit the post twice in the game.

The defense eventually settled down and NY actually began playing great one-touch soccer maintaining possession through many strides in the game. Dane Richards would have another look at goal only to miss hit the ball and have it go off Mondragon’s right leg.

The entire first half, the Red Bulls were able to hold off the Union, who only hit one shot on goal.
During the second half, the Union inserted Danny Mwanga and Freddy Adu, who helped the Union regain much of the possession. Even though the Red Bulls gave up much of the ball, they still held the Union to no shots on goal in the second half. The Union gave the Red Bulls a scare when a Sebastian LeToux sent in a dangerous free kick that found the back of the net, only to be ruled offside.

The Red Bulls entered a defensive shell and began to rely on counter attacks and some high pressure, but with Adu and Mwanga in the line up, Red Bull found it harder to hold possession.

The Red Bulls came close to a 2-0 lead when, after some good pressure from Dane, Luke and Lindpere, Rodgers found himself face to face with an open goal, only for him to slightly miss hit it and send it just over the bar.

The Red Bulls played better than cynical soccer with Rafa Marquez in the midfield, along with Lindpere’s effort. You can probably blame Backe for the Red Bulls losing possession later in the game due to his lack of subs, but the Red Bulls were able to hold the tempo for much of the game. Had Henry been in the line up, the result would have probably looked more like the 2-0 win over LA, or perhaps even more. Hans Backe has finally figured something out with the back line, which, other than the Sporting away loss, has come miles since its disastrous mid-season form.

If the Red Bulls can play some cynical soccer in the back line, maintaining a high line of pressure with some decent possession, they might be able to surprise some in the playoffs. There are still a handful of games remaining this weekend that will completely pan out the playoffs. Either way, NY will find itself in a wild card spot playing away. If NY can play a combination of the cynical/high pressure soccer, they might find themselves as they did back in 2008 once again. Hopefully this time, they’ll find a better ending.

New York Closer to Playoffs with Win Over LA

The New York Red Bulls inched closer to this year’s MLS Cup Playoffs by defeating the league-leading Los Angeles Galaxy 2-0.

The Galaxy were short-handed playing without Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane but still boasted a midfield with David Beckham and impressive Brazilian player Juninho.

The LA Galaxy came out in full force without missing a beat, connecting on several Beckham crosses that Barrett simply mishit. The Galaxy pressured early but failed to capitalize in the final third.

In the 32nd minute of a corner kick, Jan Gunnar Solli headed a hard shot towards Ricketts who made the initial save  but spilled the rebound right to Luke Rodgers who roofed it home, giving New York the 1-0 lead and some confidence.

New York began to come together with Rafa Marquez in the midfield along with Teemu Tainio. I previously said Backe should leave Rafa out, but the 5-million-dollar man came through for New York tonight. He gave a lot more effort in midfield, hustled and even got in some hard tackles. His quick service to Henry in the 59th minute set up the Frenchman to lob a swift ball past Ricketts for NY’s 2-0 lead. Henry is now tied with none other than De Rosario for the golden boot at 14 goals.

Earlier, after a great Red Bull build up, Henry fed an open Rodgers who blasted it off the post  right before the end of the first half. Thierry Henry found woodwork once again after dispossessing Beckham and prancing into the box teeing up a trademark shot that beat Ricketts but not the post.

With the first goal, NY was able to neutralize LA and place high pressure on the Galacticos, causing them to several turnovers and really succeeding in the final third playing extremely efficient and being very dangerous in LA’s half.

New York has two games left. One at Kansas City, who currently leads the eastern conference, and then at home against the Philadelphia Union to close out the 2011 regular season.

New York needs to play like they did tonight with Ream and Keel holding the back line and leaving Marquez up in the midfield allowing him to create, instead of having critical defensive duties. If New York can maintain that high pressure and cause teams to come quickly out of the back, with the talent this team has, Red Bulls have the chance to surprise some here at the end of the season and sneak into the playoffs.

Commentary and context on American soccer.