COMMENTARY | They are streaky. They are unpredictable. Their head coach and highest-paid star may not see eye-to-eye on multiple issues. They're the New York Red Bulls, and they are just three points from the top spot of the Major League Soccer table with the end of summer fast approaching.
I have, since the start of the season, believed that the Red Bulls had, on paper, the talent needed to win the MLS Cup this fall. Some of the names have changed and not every one of the team's moves worked out, and through it all have survived Mike Petke and his squad, a side that is very much so a contender to finally break the franchise's trophy drought. In order to get to what would be an oh so glorious day for club and for its long-suffering fan base, Petke must determine New York's best starting XI moving forward.
Fans and analysts alike can debate about what New York should and shouldn't have done during the 2013 transfer windows. No big signings are coming between now and December. The current New York squad will either win it all, or it will join all of the others throughout the history of this team that haven't lived up to the hype.
Note: The starting lineup listed below is based upon all players being healthy and available (i.e. not on suspension)
Who should start for the New York Red Bulls (September 2013 version): Goalkeeper
It seems like only yesterday when Luis Robles when in danger of losing his starting gig to either the returning Ryan Meara (hip surgery) or MLS veteran Kevin Hartman. Robles hasn't just earned his spot in the team's lineup over the past several months. He's evolved into one of the league's best overall 'keepers. The job is his until further notice.
Who should start for the New York Red Bulls (September 2013 version): Defenders
I was skeptical about Markus Holgersson playing out at right back, but he's been solid in that role. Jamison Olave is the cornerstone of the New York back line, and he will need to be at his absolute best for the stretch run if the Red Bulls are going to win anything of merit. As long as he can prevent those red card fouls, I like Ibrahim Sekagya paired up in the middle alongside Olave. Just as important as Sekagya being able to get the job done is that his inclusion in the lineup means that New York's best option at right back, Holgersson, starts. David Carney has looked OK in his few appearances, but a healthy Roy Miller, who has done well to put his March miscue behind him, shouldn't lose his job because of the Australian.
Who should start for the New York Red Bulls (September 2013 version): Midfielders
Dax McCarty continues to be arguably the most reliable player at his position in all of MLS. Jonny Steele has been a revelation under Petke, a threat to produce goals for teammates and to also create his own. I went and listed Tim Cahill (out for several weeks because of an ankle injury) here even though he has the liberties to roam pretty much wherever he likes while out on the pitch. Last but not least is Lloyd Sam, who has been impressive in his last few outings. Sam is the injection of pace the RBNY midfield has sorely missed since the team traded Dane Richards to Vancouver Whitecaps last July.
Who should start for the New York Red Bulls (September 2013 version): Forwards
I'm done trying to guess what's going on with his health or in his mind. Thierry Henry is still the league's top attacker when he's motivated/angry and healthy. I'm not sure that he'll work out any better than did Fabian Espindola and Péguy Luyindula, but I've thus far liked what I've seen from Bradley Wright-Phillips. He has worked well up top alongside Henry, and BWP has the pace and athleticism that makes for the perfect partner for an aging forward who, while lacking the legs he had five years ago, is the smartest man out on the field every time he walks on one.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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