Red Bulls Trample Earthquakes
Friday night the New York Red Bulls delivered an unwanted reality check to the San Jose Earthquakes in the form of a 2-0 lashing that could've been much worse but for Quakes 'keeper David Bingham channeling his inner Tim Howard.
One could be forgiven for feeling a bit sea-sick following this team, bouncing from extreme to extreme. With the Quakes, there are only wins and losses, not draws. The game after the back line ensures Bingham isn't tested once, he will have to come through with no fewer than six saves the next. 4-3-3 last week ensures that 4-2-3-1 is to follow. Magisterial, elegant, possession-heavy outings will be followed by leaden-footed passing that trades rhythm for syncopation. Except unlike syncopation, it will have no touch of jazz.
Dominic Kinnear, the erstwhile composer, called for a slightly altered look to account, in part, for personnel absences. Innocent returned from suspension to start at striker in place of the newly-suspended Adam Jahn. Supposed midfielder Chris Wondolowski, struggling in part for fitness, sat in favor of the enigmatic JJ Koval, who played a much deeper role in a double-pivot. Otherwise, the roles were unsettlingly similar.
It didn't take more than a few minutes before Kinnear's men had their hearts in their throats, with US youth international Matt Miazga heading closely over from a corner in the 6th minute. New York's midfield trio of Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, and Felipe Martins would go on to boss the show all night, giving a sign of their intentions by cutting the middle of the park to ribbons in the 10th. Going the other way, it's possible Dom Kinnear's men looked even worse, getting suffocated in possession, with only two players (Matias Perez-Garcia and Shea Salinas) looking like they were capable of holding the ball for more than a heartbeat or two. Lest you get the wrong idea, this Quakes team didn't for a moment lack for effort or energy: it was simply outclassed.
The deepest part of the team did what they could, with the center backs Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez limiting the aerial barrage and Bingham adopting a siege mentality en route to his performance of the year. But in the 29th minute, after a few shots across the bow of San Jose's fullbacks, the Red Bulls made their charge. Bradley Wright-Phillips plunged into the left flank of the Quake's defense with an ill-advised Cordell Cato pass at his feet, attempting a 1-2 but only managing to deflect the cross towards the back post and an opportunistic Sacha Kljestan, who promptly buried it into the wide open part of the net. Cato, in that instant and throughout the early going, was victimized repeatedly, with the Spanish-language commentators helpfully pointing out the lack of a true left back, but it was the ordinarily spectacular Marvell Wynne who was so AWOL on the back post that I had to scour the replays just to find him. However, with at least two free men on his side of the field (he chose to mark the one at the top of the box), it's clear that this goal was a deeply collective failure.
Things didn't look much better in the 6 minutes before New York would strike a second time. After the Earthquakes once again began to collapse like a house of cards when their left flank was targeted, winger Lloyd Sam clipped a ball across the box with oddly casual flair towards Mike Grella for a point blank finish into a gaping net. Diagnosing each individual error on this goal is a fools errand, but the undoubted highlight (lowlight?) was Marvell Wynne, inspired either by tragic miscommunication with Bernardez or genuine madness, sprinting full bore away from the eventual goalscorer and towards the side of the pitch for which he isn't responsible to mark a man who already had Koval on him.
The show remained well and truly farce for the remainder of the first half, with Red Bulls running rampant like Pamlona, and one particulary memorable moment in which Cato, after a half-hearted counter attack, rushed all the way to the opposing keeper to contest the clearance rather than run back and cover his spot. By this, the 38th minute, I had already written down in my game notes that the task at this point was merely to avoid humiliation, not to attempt in vain for any points. Clearly not able to read my personal notes, the Quakes would keep the slapstick up just three minutes later by being well and truly surprised at a free kick being taken and all but Clarence Goodson abjectly failing to move, let alone mark. Perhaps fate felt badly for them, since the header ended up cleared rather than in the back of the net, but Kemar Lawrence managed to almost volley even that in from distance.
If you're looking for any saving graces from this match for the Quakes, they almost certainly all occured after that point. Before the half was out, Innocent and Perez-Garcia mustered a decent-looking counter that ended limply and Salinas displayed his side's first real ambition by driving towards goal and winning a corner. Innocent nearly kung fu kicked an over-the-top through ball, although it must be said he just as nearly kung fu kicked 'keeper Luis Robles. The second half signalled a bit more proactivity and determination, but surprisingly without any substitutions. Bingham was called into duty twice more, once spectacularly, to bail out his back line once again.
The tone didn't truly change until the 56th minute, when Wondolowski took back his place on the pitch from Koval, and the captain's armband from Bernardez. I say the "tone" rather than the results, since Bingham was just seconds later forced into an eye-catching reflex save. Wondo's presence would be felt soon enough, however, as he managed to wriggle free on a corner and direct it (oddly casually) just over the bar with flick from his boot. While the passages of play were primarily bogged down for the next twelve minutes, that represented significant improvement.
At that point, hotshot prospect Tommy Thompson came on for the ineffectual (and indisciplined) Sanna Nyassi and immediately injected the first real positivity into the side that it had shown all night. The Quakes managed to work a ball through the midfield, with some composure, to Shea Salinas on the right flank, whose cross was swatted out of the air by the outstreched arm of Damien Perrinelle in the box. Somehow, the call never came, an indignity that would've drawn more umbrage on a night where it mattered more. Just three minutes afterwards, Thompson drove up the left channel and started a move that a few passes later would come to his feet for a half chance to finish it off. While he didn't manage the heroic feat on that occasion, his composure on the ball and creative spark was undoubtably the best conjured from his side. The kid is class. I don't know how he fits into the bigger picture yet, but he's class.
Even Cato by this point had settled into more solid defensive fundamentals. Wondo pitched in with a sudden turn and drive that sailed just barely north of the bar. Barrera came on late for Salinas and created a few lukewarm chances via pressing. Innocent then found a way to miss from a tight angle close to goal rather than cut it back to an open Wondolowski. Wynne roared forward for the first time in recent memory and found Wondo in the box, who turned it on goal only for Robles to save easily. But by the 85th minute, the Quake's late rally lost steam and the hosts began to impose themselves in greater measure to see out the final whistle. They went deadly close to putting a third on the score sheet on no fewer than three occasions in those dying minutes, and the Quakes can only thank David Bingham (and luck) that they didn't.
This was an alarming performance. It was also weirdly heartening to watch Wondo and TT, local golden boys, spark a late rally from such a desperate place. It's all in the life as a Quakes soccer fan. Tune in two weeks from now when we take on Real Salt Lake on its own turf; you never know what may happen next.