THE BACK FIVE Injured-plagued Red Bulls have used 11 players on the backline, 9 different defensive lineups
Carlos Mendes is the only Red Bulls defender to have started -- and played -- all 12 matches on the backline.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis
East Rutherford, N.J. -- It's a dozen games into the MLS season and already the Red Bulls have used 11 defensive starters and nine different lineups and configurations, if you count the goalkeepers.
That's way too many changes for any team, especially for one who has Eastern Conference title aspirations and beyond.
Coach Bruce Arena has utilized two goalkeepers -- Ronald Waterreus and Jon Conway -- and has been forced to start 11 defenders due to injuries.
The defense has included eight natural defenders Todd Dunivant, Carlos Mendes, Seth Stammler, Jeff Parke, Marvel Wynne, Hunter Freeman, Taylor Graham and Tim Regan and three midfielders who were used there in emergency situations -- Dema Kovalenko, Dave van den Bergh and Markus Schopp.
Mendes is the only player to have started all 12 matches.
For Saturday night's 3-3 home draw with the Kansas City Wizards, starters were sidelined -- Hunter Freeman (sprained ankle), who has been sidelined since May 13 and Todd Dunivant (right quadriceps strain), who was listed as probable. Kovalenko was listed on the starting roster vs. K.C., but was a late scratch due to a groin strain. He was replaced by Graham.
Parke has been bothered by a hamstring problem and Waterreus has been forced from the net in two matches due to injuries.
Thanks to a revolving door of players on the backline, the Red Bulls have allowed 11 goals in their last four games.
"We're bringing back injured players too early," Arena said after the game. "We don't have a choice."
Despite the defensive woes, the Red Bulls (6-3-3, 21 points) are still in first place in the Eastern Conference by a point over the Wizards (6-2-2, 20) and two points over the New England Revolution (5-4-2, 19). The Wizards have two games in hand over the Red Bulls, the Revs one.
Here is a look a game-by-game look at the defense (goalkeeper listed first and the backline from left to right):