HANOVER, N.J. – The majority of Péguy Luyindula’s best moments in MLS have come when he has been deployed in a central midfield role, so it was easy to see why many observers questioned his use as a forward against D.C. United last weekend.
Luyindula was given a start up top in the Red Bulls’ 1-0 defeat on Saturday, paired with Thierry Henry, while Dax McCarty and Eric Alexander sat behind them in central midfield. Luyindula's responsibilities do not change much when he is used as a forward rather than in the middle of the park, and that was once again evident at RFK Stadium as he often drifted back into the midfield to help maintain possession and add a creative edge to the attack.
Head coach Mike Petke was criticized a bit during and after the match for that lineup tweak, but his reasoning for the change – which produced plenty of quality chances that somehow did not go in – was that he felt it allowed him to get all of his current top players on the field at the same time.
“If I have 11 guys who are my best players and are playing in practice and showing me, I’m going to find a spot to put them in,” a calm and collected Petke said after practice Monday. “Doesn’t matter if they’re not naturally a left midfielder or right midfielder or forward. Going into this game, I felt that Péguy and Thierry, Dax and Eric down the middle were my best players going into that game, and that’s why I fit them in like that.”
Petke’s tactical decision may have allowed him to get the aforemention quartet on the field, but it left Bradley Wright-Phillips on the bench a week after the English forward started and went the distance against the Montreal Impact. Wright-Phillips was eventually substituted into the game and had some moments in his 24 minutes against D.C., but like his teammates he was unable to find the back of the net.
Despite Wright-Phillips’ goaless performance, there is a growing sentiment from fans and media that the veteran should be starting or at least seeing the field a little more than he has in the opening weeks of the season. After all, Wright-Phillips possesses the kind of speed that Luyindula and Henry do not, and that can add another dimension to a New York attack that topped the scoring charts last year but has mustered just six goals in as many games this season.
“That’s the hopes of someone like him, to make those little runs off the center back and stretch them out a little bit,” said Petke. “At the end of the day, when I don’t start a player it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not doing well. In Bradley’s case, of course we’d like him to have a couple of goals already and so does he.
“We know the qualities that he brings us. He’s going to be involved whether it’s this week coming up, whether it’s the following game.”
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Regardless of whether there's room for both Wright-Phillips and Luyindula to start for the Red Bulls in their next game on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Union (7:30 pm ET; MLS Free Stream of the Week), New York are in sore need of a win. The 2013 Supporters’ Shield winners are currently without a victory at 0-2-4, and though they are composed about the dreary start to 2014, the pressure to pick up three full points is ramping up.
“We didn’t turn overnight from last year to this year into a bad team. We’re not a bad team,” said Petke. “Is [0-2-4] Portland a bad team? No. They haven’t had the results they’ve wanted either. We’re taking the approach like last year, that it’s one game at a time.
“If we build off of what we did in D.C. and come with that attitude and come with that quality that we have and are able to put the ball in the net, we’re going to be fine.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.