COMMENTARY | It sometimes feels as if the New York Red Bulls can't help but be, well, themselves. It may be a new era for the club, but the song has largely remained the same for New York at the start of the 2013 Major League Soccer regular season. The team's designated players haven't contributed enough, there have been questions about the coach's ability to get the best from his squad, and the Red Bulls back line has routinely been shaky at best. March ended on a high note for New York, as the team got their first win of the campaign.
Will that one result be a launching point for Petke's Army?
2013 New York Red Bulls March review: MVP
This was not an easy award to hand out considering New York's form throughout March. Keeping with the theme of things staying the same, I went with Dax McCarty. Sure, some of his ill-advised shots from outside of the penalty area leave me screaming at my television set or toward the pitch, and his flick-on/deflection that resulted in a goal against Philadelphia Union was as much luck as it was skill. With all of that said, no player in the RBNY squad was as consistent as was McCarty in March, and he is well on his way to being the team's season MVP for the second straight year.
McCarty was the best CDM in all of MLS last season. A repeat of such solid play this spring could see the midfielder receive an international call-up from US coach Jurgen Klinsmann. That wouldn't be great news for the Red Bulls, who would, in such a scenario, be without their MVP for multiple summer fixtures.
2013 New York Red Bulls March review: What to do with the back line?
Unless you haven't been following the team for more than a minute, you're probably familiar with the issues that have plagued the Red Bulls back line since the spring of 2012. Despite it being a new year and the team having a new front office and new head coach, those problems haven't gone anywhere. There are three things that Petke and company must figure out ASAP if the Red Bulls are going to contend for more than just a playoff spot this time around:
Who is the team's left back?
Who makes up the first-choice duo in the middle?
Who do you do when Jamison Olave can't play?
All indications are that the much-maligned Roy Miller will get another shot at LB. I, unlike many within the RBNY fan base, am actually OK with this. He has the ability to play the position rather well when his head is in the game (see the fall of 2011 for examples), and Miller's presence out on the pitch would allow Petke to fill other gaps in the squad. I just hope the Costa Rica international has been reading up on the rules of the game since his horror show in San Jose.
CB Markus Holgersson is now to Petke as William Gallas is to Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas. Holgersson hasn't shown that he has the physical gifts needed to play in Petke's high back line, and he makes far too many noteworthy miscues that result in opponents finding the back of the net. Assuming that Miller is out of Petke's doghouse sooner than later, Heath Pearce and Olave will make up the center of the New York defense as soon as the first Sunday in April.
The problem with that mode of thinking is that Olave, like captain Thierry Henry, will not always be an option because of fitness concerns. This is where Petke has a big decision to make. Does he trust Holgersson to play a solid 90 minutes in his system? If not, then the Red Bulls need to look for a replacement immediately.
2013 New York Red Bulls March review: Reasons to remain calm
Taking five of a possible 15 points is not an ideal way to begin the season. There's no denying that. Still, there are many significant reasons why nobody within the RBNY camp is even glancing at the panic button after the first month of the season.
Every reasonable fan should have understood back at the start of the preseason that the first half of the 2013 campaign was going to be a practice in patience for the Red Bulls. It takes time for a team to get familiar with a new coach and a new system, and for certain players to get used to a new club and even a new league (looking at you, Péguy Luyindula). We'll only be able to adequately evaluate how well or how poorly the new New York bosses are doing once the halfway point of the season comes.
One must also remember that no other team seems capable of running away with the Eastern Conference title after five MLS weekends. Montreal may be 4-1-0, but they haven't yet shown that they have staying power. Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City and Columbus Crew all seem to be good-but-not-elite sides. Being right in the middle of the conference standings after Easter weekend is just fine for New York.
Just as long as they are above the sixth spot in the MLS East table come late October.
For more: Roy Miller and encroachment laws
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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