The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our Best of 2011 awards, running Dec. 19 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS and US international players, including MLS Broadcaster Call of the Year, Game of the Year and, via fan vote, the Moment of the Year.
New media editor Matthew Doyle sums up the strength to look back at the Gaffe of the Year, won this time around by New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream for a costly giveaway against an I-95 rival.
For Red Bulls fans, no doubt it unfolded in slow motion.
There their team was, deep in enemy territory, dominating a rival. They had passed circles around the Union on that early April evening, completing 577 passes in all and controlling the ball a whopping 65 percent of the time. They whipped in 25 crosses to Philly’s five, generated chance after chance and were never really in any danger.
The crowd felt it: The goal was coming. It was surely coming. Eventually, New York would put one of those passes on a platter.
They were correct.
In the 68th minute, Tim Ream – the calmest, coolest central defender in MLS, the guy who’d passed his way out of countless jams as a rookie with nary a flub to his name – put it on a platter, alright. And 18,000 Union fans came to their feet in joy.
Ream took a back pass from Teemu Tainio and attempted to distribute across his back third. It was a simple chip over a closing defender, playing the ball out wide with designs toward giving the Red Bulls time and space for yet another foray down the field. It was the type of play he’d made countless times in 2010 without putting a foot wrong.
But Danny Mwanga was waiting, and Ream flubbed it. Mwanga pounced, took three quick touches and fed Roger Torres, who fired past Bouna Coundoul for the 1-0 Philadelphia lead that ended with a 1-0 Philadelphia win.
“Tim is still a young player with a lot to learn. He still has quite a lot to learn and, well, he has committed errors that are very infantile and cost us goals. ”
-New York's Rafa Márquez,
through a translator, on Tim Ream
For the Philly fans and players, this was the moment they’d been waiting for, a chance to turn RBNY’s dominance against them and hit on the break, a chance for a signature win over a loud, loathed rival living just two hours up I-95. And maybe it wasn’t the type of win that would define the season, but it was surely the type that everyone in navy and gold could remember with a smile.
For New York’s traveling contingent, this was a nightmare made real. Suddenly all their dominance, their undefeated (at that point) season, their star-filled team was revealed for what it was: A fragile collection of parts that didn’t quite fit. Ream took the heat – he claimed full responsibility for the loss that week in his New York Times blog – and on that day, was deserving of it.
But as the season went on, it’s clear that the Philly flub was a sign of things to come. The Red Bulls never really figured out how to operate as a unit, constantly left each other without options, and when things went really bad, started pointing fingers. They eventually abandoned the possession game nearly en toto, and as the errors mounted became a “cynical” team – in the words of head coach Hans Backe, anyway – that wanted less of the ball and more of the counter.
It all came back to that play. New York lost the game, and then they lost faith. And that’s why Ream’s Philly flub is the 2011 Gaffe of the Year.
2. Kasey Keller, Seattle Sounders – This one was beyond bizarre. Keller quite literally ended up scooping Fabián Espíndola’s moderately dangerous cross into his own net, giving RSL a 1-0 lead that would eventually become a 2-1 win. Keller’s one of the all-time greats, but this particular play will live on forever in blooper reels.
3. Ream – Yeah, it happened to Ream again, this time against RSL in late September. He took a back pass and left his return square across the penalty area for Espíndola to deposit past a stunned Frank Rost. You’ll never see a prettier assist. RSL went on to a 3-1 win, and RBNY went on to fully adopt the “Clear first, ask questions later” policy that got them to the Western Conference Semis.
WATCH: Discussing the Gaffe of the Year