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USA

Bright New York Start Has MLS Wondering Why



Ian Palmer


Without wanting to jinx New York Red Bulls in any way, the fact is that the club have already equalled last season's wins total, with five already in 2010. And that after just six games. In fact, it's New York's best ever start, helping them to top spot with 15 points from six games.

However, a look behind the numbers shows New York had only outscored their opponents by eight goals to four, pointing to the fact that all the club's six games so far have been tight. Their biggest win was just 2-0, and their solitary defeat came by the same score. The other four games were decided by just a single goal.

New York Red Bulls also took their excellent start into the US Open Cup, as Conor Chinn bagged a pair of goals when they handed Philadelphia Union a 2-1 loss in the tournament's opening round.

All in all it seems as if Hans Backe's side are scoring at timely moments in games, especially through Juan Pablo Angel, with the Colombian striker having four to his name at the time of writing. At the back too their defence and goalkeeper, Bouna Coundoul, are keeping things tight and helping the few goals they do score to be enough.

So what exactly has turned the team's fortunes around over the off-season?

A few new players have joined the squad, including two 33-year-olds in the shape of Welsh international midfielder Carl Robinson and goalkeeper Greg Sutton – both were snapped up from Toronto FC. Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere was also added from Norwegian side Tromso and defender Chris Albright joined from New England Revolution. The club also cleared the decks by shipping out goalkeeper Danny Cepero, defenders Carlos Johnson and Walter Garcia, along with midfielder Matthew Mbuta over the winter.

Also in the mix is a new coach, as former Notts County manager Hans Backe was brought to the club in January. 57-year-old Backe took over from Juan Carlos Osorio, who left half way through last season. The Swedish coach has a strong CV having coached FC Copenhagen in Denmark, – picking up four league titles – Greek giants Panathinaikos and Austrian side SV Salzburg.

Perhaps though Red Bulls don't owe their success just to the human touch. Maybe the only thing they needed to jolt them out of their misery and inspire them was a new $200M stadium, which they moved into in time for the new season. The new soccer-specific stadium in nearby Harrison, New Jersey, holds 25,000 and is widely regarded as one of the league's best. Improved surroundings have translated to improved performances. All that is needed now is more fans.

The club's faithful haven't really jumped back on the Red Bulls' bandwagon yet and Backe's men haven't been attracting the amount of supporters they hoped for. The stadium-opener was, as expected, sold out, but the two league games after that averaged around 15,000. The US Open Cup meeting with Philadelphia was much worse, drawing just over 3,000.
 
While nobody other than Angel, and perhaps Coundoul, who has proven to be a very athletic goalkeeper, have really stood out so far this season, the rest of the players have developed into a team, a cohesive unit that's getting the job done. They might be going about it in an unspectacular fashion, but the results are starting to add up.

The former Aston Villa striker reaffirmed this point of view when stating: “It's phenomenal that we're getting the results, but there's a lot of work to do and a lot of improvement to be made. But in every aspect of the game, we're a much better team than we were last year.”

Maybe the real reason for New York's dramatic turnaround is a lot simpler than many people have thought. It could well be that last year's doormats are starting to get a few lucky breaks along the way. They might get outplayed in games this season, just the same as last year, but still come out of them with a result. And results are what count in MLS, especially to Red Bulls fans.

 


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Published: Tuesday, 4th May 2010