It’s always an adventure in New York.
The Red Bulls’ tumultuous early season has given way to a strong run of performances of late. Thierry Henry’s nine goals have helped New York to third place in the Eastern Conference and Hans Backe’s team has posted a pair of 1-0 shutouts in their last two matches while missing their star striker.
We caught up with MLSsoccer.com’s Red Bulls beat writer, Franco Panizo, to talk about New York’s unlikely defensive unit, Kenny Cooper’s fortunes and goalkeeper of the future Ryan Meara.
Fantasy Spotlight: The Red Bulls earned a shutout against LA with an unheralded back line of Connor Lade, Tyler Ruthven, Markus Holgersson and Brandon Barklage. What have you seen from New York defensively in the past two matches?
Franco Panizo: Defensively, the New York Red Bulls have put together a pair of hard-fought performances. They have played very compact at the back and have avoided the boneheaded individual mistakes that were costing them early on in the year.
A big part of that success is also Dax McCarty, who has been used as a defensive midfielder in front of the back four. He is constantly putting out fires and Backe said that could be his position from here on out.
FS: Kenny Cooper found himself in the starting lineup and has responded with seven goals. Do you think he's going to keep up his torrid pace?
Panizo: Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, I do not. Cooper has definitely improved his game, but a lot of his goals have come as a result of the stellar play from Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry. Cooper is showing more aggressiveness in his play and is using his big frame much better than he used to, but I don’t see him continuing to light up scoreboards at the same pace that he was at the start of the season.
FS: With Henry out, who would you consider the next-best scoring option behind Cooper? Joel Lindpere perhaps, or Dane Richards?
Panizo: Out of the guys in the starting lineup, you’d have to say it’s Lindpere. Yes, the Estonian has gotten off to a slow start this season, but he showed the Galaxy he is still capable of getting forward. While Richards has blazing speed, his end product has always been questionable. It should only be a matter of time before Lindpere strings together some solid outings and adds a few more goals to his name.
Now if you’re talking about anyone on the roster, you’d have to say Juan Agudelo. From what I’ve seen in practice, his game has matured a bit since last season, but he has not had the chance to show it due to the injuries.
FS: Is Jan Gunnar Solli past his injury problems? He picked up an assist against LA – is he a threat to add more assists going forward? Which position is he playing?
Panizo: Before sustaining an injury vs. D.C. United a couple of weeks back, Solli was primarily used at right back with mixed results. Against the Galaxy, he was deployed as a left midfielder while Barklage manned the right back spot to great effect.
It’s not clear yet where exactly Solli will play as the season progresses, but if Barklage continues playing as well as he has, Solli might be used more often than not as a wide midfielder. If that’s the case, his motor should be good enough to provide at least a handful of assists for New York.
FS: Finally, Ryan Meara was in the news recently with his decision to play internationally for Ireland. How has he played so far this season and are the Red Bulls looking to him as the goalkeeper of the future?
Panizo: Meara’s contributions this season have been nothing short of spectacular. He’s come up with big save after big save and has rarely made a mistake. In fact, if not for Henry’s red-hot form to start the season, I’d argue Meara has been the team’s MVP up to this point in the campaign.
You don’t want to get too high on someone too quickly, especially given the miniscule number of game he has played, but Meara is fundamentally sound, does not seem to get rattled too easily and can come up with the huge stop when needed. He is definitely the guy the Red Bulls are looking at as the goalkeeper of the future.