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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

November 7, 2012
On Cooper's benching, penalty kicks, weather factor, the crowd

By Michael Lewis Editor

Much has been written and said about Red Bulls coach Hans Backe's decision to sit Kenny Cooper in Game One of the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals series. I, for one, did not like it.

After all, Cooper finished the season with a team-high 18 goals, which tied his personal MLS-season best. He also was the reigning MLS player of the week on the strength of his brace in the Red Bulls' 3-0 road win over the Philadelphia union in the regular-season finale the prior Saturday.

I reserve the right before making a definitive statement about his decision. We have to see how the aggregate goals series plays out.

Backe said it was a tactical decision because he felt the Red Bulls needed more pace on the road against D.C. United at RFK Stadium to try to stretch the game with Sebestian Le Toux in the lineup. Le Toux was not very effective, as was Cooper after he replaced him. But the Red Bulls earned a 1-1 draw, which is a decent result on the road.

Backe had indicated that Cooper would start Wednesday night's second leg of the aggregate goals series at Red Bull Arena. Earlier this week, Backe said he had not made a decision on whether Cooper will start.

If he doesn't start Cooper and the Red Bulls lose, Backe's decision will become one of the worst ever made in the league's 17-year playoff history.

If Cooper is in the Starting XI and he plays a key role in a victory, Backe will wind up in a much better light and perhaps a genius in some quarters.

Of course, Cooper can start and the Red Bulls can lose, in which first- and second-guessers will have a field day with Backe on his first leg decision. It probably won't affect Backe's status as coach for next season because he is considered a dead coach walking in the wake of a new general manager and subsequently a new sporting director to be named (who will name a coach). New regimes like to bring in their own men, especially with Backe's contract running out after this season.

The penalty phase

If the second leg ends in a tie, it will be decided by penalty kicks, which is a crap shoot and a bad way to decide games. But those are the rules. The shootout can be decided by a hot or lucky goalkeeper who sometimes has to make only one vital save to boost his team into the next round. On the other side of the ball, it could come down to who has more ice water in his veins.

The onus is always on the shooter because the conversion rate is around 70 percent and he is expected to make it

The weather factor

Who knows what the playing conditions will be like in Harrison, N.J.?

With a nor'easter bearing down on the area, the conditions could vary from sloppy to absolutely treacherous. That could add a random factor into the mix. For example, a usually reliable defender could slip or not get good traction at the very worst time, which could lead to a goal, perhaps the winning one.

Like penalty kicks, it would be an awful way to decide such a vital game. Hopefully, my fears will not be realized.

Should the show go on? And the crowd

Given what has happened to New Jersey thanks to Sandy and with the nor'easter upon us, I will take a pass on any crowd criticism because anyone who shows up at RBA, God bless them.

I tweeted on Tuesday that the league should move the game to Thursday for the safety of the players, fans, staff, RBA workers, media and anyone else who may be affected. Some reports have forecasts of 3-5 inches of snow in New Jersey, which would not make for a safe ride home.

Yes, I know that NBC is scheduled to air the Eastern Conference final at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

But safety is more important than TV commitments. Hopefully, the storm won't be as bad, but I fear the worst, especially for anyone getting to and from the stadium.

Hopefully, MLS makes the right decision.

If the league does push back the game, I hope it is done it early enough in the day so fans will notified.

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