The 2013 New York Red Bulls are a team of different identities as April concludes. They are a side with serious questions in defense, one that is also unable to defeat teams that are in the top half of the Major League Soccer standings. They are a team with two designated players who may be coming on as springtime temperatures are finally arriving to the NYC/NJ area. The Red Bulls are also a side continuing to go through the expected growing pains that come from having a rookie head coach who is still learning on the job.
In other words, there's still a long way to go; in multiple ways.
2013 New York Red Bulls April review: POTM
The obvious choice is Tim Cahill, who capped the best month of his MLS career to date with two goals at Toronto on April 27. Cahill's contributions on the pitch and in training sessions have earned him praise from head coach Mike Petke and several of his teammates, and some are even suggesting that he and not captain Thierry Henry is the top player in the squad. All of those comments aside, I went a different direction when dishing out this award.
Much-maligned left back Roy Miller, who was restored to the lineup on April 13, put his nightmare in San Jose behind him and rewarded his coach with four very solid performances. Miller avoided making any memorable miscues in the defensive third, and his worst moment of the month came when he sailed a far-post cross that may have resulted in a RBNY goal had he been accurate. Truth be told, I can live with the occasional errant ball from Miller if that's all the ammo he gives me.
Heath Pearce CAN play out left if necessary, but Miller is the only real natural left back in the squad. His being a capable defender who can also routinely push forward without hanging his teammates and goalkeeper out to dry could make all the difference for the Red Bulls as the season goes on. If (and it's a massive "IF" after just four matches) Miller can continue to be the guy who featured for New York in April, he could quietly become a team MVP candidate a la Dax McCarty last year.
2013 New York Red Bulls April review: Biggest loser?
There are signs that the biggest loser of April 2013 among the New York players could be goalkeeper Luis Robles. Robles, who has notoriously been good for a gaffe per month since joining the club last summer, has failed to lock up the starting gig while both Ryan Meara and Kevin Hartman have been attempting to return to match fitness. Petke non-committed committed to Robles on Tuesday, saying the following on the matter three days after his goalkeeper's most recent blunder in Toronto cost his team a goal and nearly two points:
"Just like every single [position] on this team, it's always going to be a royal rumble. I'm looking for everybody to separate themselves at their given position. If I have two players at one position and one's been playing and the other one is just pretty much even with him, well, that's not enough to win that spot. I need somebody to step above and that goes all the way from the forwards back to the goalies. And when [Meara and Hartman] get back and healthy, I've always said, it's going to be a great battle."
The pressure is now on Robles, who may only have one more match to prove that he deserves to be Petke's first-choice goalkeeper moving forward. Truth be told, the RBNY coach may decide to go with either Meara or Hartman when New York are away to Columbus on May 4. Petke has thus far been a forgiving boss. Just ask the previously mentioned Roy Miller.
How many more chances will Robles get before his coach is forced to reach for the hook?
2013 New York Red Bulls April review: Stats lie
The Red Bulls are, on paper, in pretty good shape at the end of the month. They've won two straight, they notched victories in three of their five April games, and they're currently in second place in the Eastern Conference standings, just two points behind Montreal Impact. Everything's dandy, yes?
Not exactly. New York have already played ten league contests this year, while everybody else in the MLS East other than Sporting Kansas City have played either seven or eight matches (SKC have played nine). The Red Bulls will play five games in May, and they'll be in action three times between May 4 and May 11.
New York beat DC United, New England Revolution and Toronto FC in April. Those three teams have a combined 19 points after 23 totals games played. The Red Bulls were downed at Chicago Fire, who are currently on seven points after eight league matches, and they also lost at home to a KC team that is talented but also very inconsistent.
The point is that there is zero indication that the 2013 Red Bulls are, as they stand on April 30, a guaranteed postseason team. Not a single one of their victories this season has come against a side that would qualify for the playoffs if that tournament began today. Arrange the overall MLS table by points-per-game, and New York would be eighth in the league and fifth in the conference. Trust me when I say that this squad was not built to merely back its way into the postseason.
The "MLS Cup or Bust" mantra from the days of Hans Backe hasn't gone anywhere.
Zac has been covering New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer, Tottenham Hotspur, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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