UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Lost amid the Red Bulls three-game winning streak and offensive explosion is their recent defensive dominance. All three wins have been by shutout, and no one has had a better view of those games than goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul.
After starting the season as the club’s No. 2 keeper, Coundoul capitalized on a Greg Sutton concussion to reclaim the nod in the starting XI, the role he had all of 2010.
“Well, I am very pleased the way things are going tactically,” Coundoul told MLSSoccer.com. “We’re playing well, we are keeping our shape and we are limiting chances for the other team. This is what a good defense does and we’re doing that.”
The Red Bulls are beyond solid defensively, building on last year’s record of allowing less than a goal per game. This year, New York have conceded just two goals in seven games, tied with Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake for the top mark in MLS.
Coundoul conceded a goal in each of his first two starts of the season, but he has now settled into the current streak, which he carries into Los Angeles when the Red Bulls face the Galaxy on Saturday (11p.m., ESPN2). The 'keeper said that the shutout streak is a total team effort.
“It isn’t just the back four playing well, it is everyone doing their part,” Coundoul said. “The midfield closing things down, the forwards pursuing the ball hard. That’s the key to what we’re doing, we all take pride in it – not just the defenders but everyone on this team.”
Last year, Coundoul was far busier than he has been through his five starts in 2011. At times in 2010 the Red Bulls back line was porous. Now, given a year under head coach Hans Backe’s system coupled with a full preseason together, the Red Bulls backline is playing tight and aggressive soccer.
And it sometimes leaves Coundoul with little to do.
“I’m not totally bored but sometimes, maybe just a little,” Coundoul said. “I play with my feet a lot, the guys try to pass the ball back to me to keep me involved, to keep me focused. It helps me stay in the rhythm. You will also see that I am more engaged, more vocal. When we have corner kicks, I am bent over, ready in case anything happens. I try to stay sharp for all 90 minutes.”
While his teammates’ goalscoring prowess has been an obvious issue for New York’s opponents, it’s also proved problematic for Coundoul himself. Twice in the first half following Luke Rodgers goals against San Jose, the South Ward supporters’ section lit off smoke bombs, the smoke from which covered Coundoul.
It could have been a dicey situation had the Quakes managed a counterattack.
“Especially when we scored in the San Jose game, it was tough to see, there’s so much smoke that they set off. At one point, I thought maybe the ball was behind me, I couldn’t see what was going on,” Coundoul said. “I think it is fine though. You can tell that the fans are passionate, really into it and we appreciate their support. Those guys are so loud and fire us up. I can put up with the smoke.
“I’m just glad I haven’t gotten burned by it yet for a goal, though.”
Defender Rafa Marquez, midfielder Teemu Tainio and Rodgers did not practice on Tuesday. Head coach Hans Backe said that Marquez was resting. Rodgers, who was subbed out at halftime, has a knee issue that Backe said is "very tight." Tainio was also subbed at halftime with a tight groin. Backe anticipates all three players training Thursday ahead of their trip to Los Angeles.
Tim Ream's practice was cut short after a knock to his knee sent him limping. The United States international iced the knee for the remainder of training and appeared fine afterward.
Without Marquez, Carlos Mendes worked with the first team defenders.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer