Waking The Red: Rafa Marquez: Distracty sideshow cancer guy, or valuable and influential player with a huge part to play in any playoff run?
Once A Metro: Neither, actually. Rafa has been injured/suspended/away with the Mexican National Team so much that he has only played in a handful of matches this year. Interestingly enough, the Red Bulls have won or tied ten of the eleven games he has started. However, besides the abundance of games he's missed outright due to injury, he's had to come off less than forty-five minutes in THREE starts due to various strains and muscle pulls. He's been pretty low-key after calling out Tim Ream last year. Contrary to what his teammates might currently say about him, of all the games I've watched this year, the Red Bulls play much better with other options in central midfield. Now he's got another week or two off the game day roster with his most recent injury picked up last week against New England. Best case scenario, he comes back rested and healthy just in time for the playoffs and contributes to a serious run for the club. Worst case scenario, despite him not being in top form, Hans Backe continues to trot him out there in the starting lineup. This provides a well-placed long pass every now and again but otherwise is a major downgrade from a guy like Dax McCarty.
WTR: You guys had a pretty fancy midfield and forward line to start off with, how has adding Tim Cahill and Sebastian Le Toux changed that? Do they make the team better?
OAM: Fancy is a great way of putting it - Cahill has had some good showings thus far as well as a couple less memorable ones. But his addition has certainly made New York more dangerous off set pieces as he has a real knack for timing his jumps and getting good headers on goal. While he might still be settling into the team and league, I don't think anyone would argue that Cahill has made the team worse. Then again, having an extra central midfielder has really pushed Dax McCarty, who was having an MLS Best Eleven caliber season, out of the central midfield and to the right side.
Le Toux, on the other hand, really hasn't shown much at all in his short tenure with the club. First off, his arrival seems to have derailed Kenny Cooper, who at the time was the third leading scorer in Major League Soccer. It would be one thing if Le Toux was really bringing something to the team, but his unimpressive games both at forward and on the right side of the midfield led him to the bench for the past month until last Saturday against New England when he filled in for a suspended Thierry Henry. Granted, the match against the Revolution made for pretty lousy viewing overall, but Le Toux was particularly invisible. Losing Dane Richards in the trade that brought in Le Toux has also created an issue for New York that they don't have a really fast player to stretch opposing defenses. In the eighteen matches before the trade, New York averaged 1.78 goals per game, which has fallen in the last twelve with Le Toux to 1.5.
WTR 43 goals against, 3rd worst in the East. Is that the sort of defence that can win an MLS Cup? Is that due to Tim Ream's absence, and what's being done to address things back there?
OAM: No. Forty-three goals (and counting) is not the sort of defense that can win an MLS Cup. Due to injuries and bringing new players in, Backe didn't settle on a consistent back four until recently. Now with Connor Lade suspended, Brandon Barklage will be returning to the starting lineup on Saturday night. Regardless of who starts, the Red Bulls defense gives up too many goals on crosses and looks particularly disinterested early in matches. Heath Pearce was brought in in a trade for Juan Agudelo, but Backe has played him almost exclusively at center back and instead has moved Wilman Conde out wide. To address this major issue of lack of quality, consistent defense, the Red Bulls did the obvious thing - they added three more attacking midfield players (Cahill, Le Toux, and Lloyd Sam), and Kaka's brother - yet another large, physical style center back.
WTR: Lineup and score prediction. Will Backe see this as a chance to rest some players, or a chance to really boost that goals total?
OAM: This is a must-win game for New York. They can't keep dropping points if they want to stay in the top three in the Eastern Conference and avoid the wild-card playoff spots. The Red Bulls do catch a break in that after a seemingly endless season of schedule quirks, they play three of their last four games at home and have just one match per week until the playoffs. The caveat is those games include Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire, as well as a trip down to play rival Philadelphia. Not earning a full three points at home against a bottom table team that is just coming back from a midweek game in El Salvador is going to raise some serious doubts about New York's chances at MLS Cup.
Projected starting lineup: Henry and Cooper up top. Tainio and Cahill in central midfield. Dax McCarty on the right and Jan Gunnar Solli or Joel Lindpere on the left. The back four should be Conde, Pearce, Holgersson, and Barklage, who will make his return to the starting eleven as Connor Lade picked up a one game suspension for his two yellow cards last week. Finally, news out of training is that starting goalkeeper Bill Gaudette injured his back midweek, so his status is up in the air. Luis Robles, anyone?
Thanks Dan, and check out my answers to his questions here over at Once A Metro.