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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

September 19, 2012
Outplayed in just about every facet, Red Bulls hardly look like championship contenders

Hans Backe has not found a way to get the Red Bulls out of their early-game funk.
Hans Backe has not found a way to get the Red Bulls out of their early-game funk.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis Editor

HARRISON, N.J. -- If the Red Bulls want to have any chance of doing so damage in the Major League Soccer playoffs, they're going to have to change their ways.

They certainly talk a good game, but have done nothing or very little to change it.

Sporting Kansas City outplayed them in virtually every important area of the game in their 2-0 defeat at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night.

Let Red Bulls coach Hans Backe put things into perspective in his opening post-match comments:

"Poor marking on two set plays in the beginning. Too many lost 50-50 when you play against Kansas, too many unforced errors. It's a tough one to go down like that, but it was a better second half. We created a decent number of changes, but couldn't really hurt them. They were the better team today."

Could not have said it better myself.

Forget about catching Kansas City for the Eastern Conference crown or the San Jose Earthquakes for the Supporters Shield. Those are fleeting dreams. With five games remaining in the season and a five-point deficit is too much to ask of a team that has consistently fallen behind. Sooner or later it was going to catch up to the Red Bulls and it did on Wednesday night.

Sporting Kansas City exposed and reminded us of the Red Bulls' weaknesses. The list includes a lack of team speed or pace, a tradition of allowing the opposition, home or away, to take the game to them and score an early goal, and their inability to stop set pieces consistently.

"It's a little bit of the cancer I would call it, [that] we have from the beginning of the season and it's always up to the coaching staff to identify to try to change it," Marquez said about the team allowing foes to score first and early.

But alas, the coaching staff hasn't, especially the inability to defend on corner kicks and free kicks, a malady that goes back to the 2011 season.

The Red Bulls have plenty of talent in Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, Tim Cahill and Marquez, among others. That should be good enough to finish among the top five teams in the Eastern Conference and they might be able to get through the first round, but against the likes of Kansas City and Chicago, it could be tough sledding ahead.
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