Red Bulls attack has room for improvement

HARRISON,
N.J. – They may have registered a 1-0 season-opening victory over the Seattle Sounders on the heels of a spectacular goal by forward Juan Agudelo. But as can be expected this early in the season, for the New York Red Bulls, there is work to be done.

Even
with three good chances from Thierry Henry, including a poorly taken penalty
kick in the ninth minute by the former French international that was saved by
Seattle’s Kasey Keller, the Red Bulls struggled in the offensive third and looked tentative and out of sync.

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It's an area of their game the Red Bulls are seeking to improve on in 2011: translating their dominant possession game into more goals.

“If
you compare to last season, we had a lot of games where we were up 1-0,”
Backe said after the match. “It looked the same as last season – a lot of
possession but couldn’t finish our chances.”

There
was a bright spot amid the déjà vu: Agudelo.

In
a 71st-minute moment of brilliance, deep-lying midfielder Teemu
Tainio’s ball over the top of the Seattle defense fell into the path of Agudelo for the game’s only score. The 18-year-old, who stepped into the role vacated
by designated player Juan Pablo Angel who was not retained by the club this
offseason, was the most dangerous threat for New York all night long.

“We
should have been cleaner in the final third,” midfielder Dane Richards told MLSsoccer.com. "We had chances but didn’t take
advantage of them. We need to be
composed in the box and we have to play faster, move the ball quicker.”

The Jamaican
international had four shots in the game but just one on goal. The
offensive struggles haunted the team last year, even with the addition of
Henry in midseason, and it was a constant theme as
the team prepared for the 2011 season.

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During
the team’s winter jaunts to Mexico, Florida and Arizona, the Red Bulls scored 14 times in nine preseason games – a sobering stat considering nearly half
the matches were against lower-division sides or Mexican reserves. With a player like Henry and a savvy, veteran midfield, the
Red Bulls should be capable in pushing forward more effectively.

“I
did feel like we controlled the game and didn’t get dragged into too much the
way Seattle plays,” right back Jan Gunnar Solli said. “We can be a little more
precise in the final third of the park, [then] we’ll have big chances.”

Those
“big chances” were not many on Saturday night for New York and Backe, now in his second year
with the club. Midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy was effectively posted up by
Seattle’s defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and the Red Bulls No. 10 rarely
had the chance to turn his back from goal. On the right wing Richards, who
carried much of the scoring load late last summer for the club, was limited in
his effectiveness. And then Henry, who suffered a left hamstring injury in the
match, was ineffective at best.

The
Red Bulls tallied 21 shots in the match but just seven of which were on goal.

“We
didn’t create that many great chances,” Tainio said. “Of course, it is the
first game of the season, you have to remember that. It’s the early days so
when guys get to know each other and play more games, I think it will come more
easily.”

The
Red Bulls and Backe can only hope as much.

Kristian R. Dyer can
be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer


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