November 13, 2012
After yet another disappointing Red Bulls finish, the good, bad and ugly of their DPs
By Michael Lewis
Hopefully, Rafa Marquez has taken his last kick as a Red Bulls, Michael Lewis writes.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
No matter which way you look at it, the Erik Soler-Hans Backe tenure was a failure -- on and off the field.
The Red Bulls could not fill a new, state-of-the-art $250-million Red Bull Arena more than a handful of times since it opened in 2010.
While there have been plenty of flaws of Red Bull Arena in terms of parking and leaving Harrison, N.J. without getting in a messy traffic jam, it has been stunning to see empty seats in such a beautiful stadium on a regular basis, especially with such high profile designated players such as Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez in the lineup.
As for the on the field accomplishments, the Red Bulls did not live up to their potential and hype, not by a long shot.
Yes, the team made the playoffs all three years, but only an apologist would defend the team this season. Boasting a league-high $16.4 million payroll, the Red Bulls were shown the door in the conference semifinals -- for the third consecutive year.
On Sunday we were reminded how vital high profile designated players can be to the success of a team. The LA Galaxy's triumvirate of Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane acquitted themselves well in the 3-0 home victory in the first leg of the Western Conference final series.
The Red Bulls' trio of Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Tim Cahill paled in comparison in their Eastern conference semifinal series elimination by D.C. United.
While Henry certainly distinguished himself when he wasn't missing road games due to artificial turf during the regular season, he was disappointing in the playoffs, when it matters the most in North America.
Whatever magic Henry produced for eight months, disappeared in November.
And then there was the Roy Miller incident in the waning minutes of the 1-0 defeat to United in the second leg last Thursday.
Having left back Roy Miller, who was relegated to a reserve role in the second half of the season, take an 11th-hour free was inexcusable. If you are making the big bucks -- and Henry is at the top of the MLS player salary list at $5.6 million a season -- you take the kick.
No if, ands or butts. Only a boot on the ball by Henry would have been the only proper decision.
Outside of winning a title, Henry, like it or not, could wind up being remembered for such a dubious decision with so much on the line. Perhaps he would have missed. Perhaps he would have fired the shot into the stands -- which he had been doing for most of the game -- but at least Thierry Henry would have taken the kick.
Almost a week after the game, I still can't put my head around that play.
As for next season, the former French international isn't getting any younger. He will turn 36 next August, ancient for a striker.
While his skills and vision have not diminished, Henry lacks the burst of speed he had in his prime. He is not the same striker who terrorized defenders and goalkeepers while he roamed Highbury for Arsenal for so many years and Camp Nou for Barcelona for a shorter time.
Nothing earth-shattering there. That happens to just about every striker who reaches the other side of 30.
Whether Henry wants to be a part of a rebuilding process under newly hired sporting director Andy Roxburgh and a yet-to-be named coach, it remains to be seen.
One DP should not return to the team -- Marquez, who has turned into one of the biggest liabilities in team history, if not league history.
Just how many players do you know have ended their playoffs and season with a red card for two years running? Marquez received a red card for throwing the ball at Landon Donovan after a 1-0 home loss. On Thursday, a second yellow card led to his dismissal in the second leg.
Add two fragile legs that seem to be getting worse and opening his mouth at the wrong time (throwing teammates under the bus and screaming at Backe for selecting Miller as his replacement after he tweaked a leg calf muscle in the first leg), and Marquez is essentially a walking (and sometimes talking) embarrassment.
If he was any other player, Marquez would have been sent packing long ago.
Rafa should be sent packing, even if the Red Bulls have to eat some or all of his $4.6 million contract. He is too much of an unpredictable factor and liability to have on the team.
It would be a grave mistake if the Red Bulls' new regime brings him back.
Cahill necessarily did not have a memorable second leg, but he was in the middle of things and at least trying. He is a grinder.
While I did not necessarily like the fact Cahill was a human shield for Kenny Cooper when writers wanted to talk to the striker about his penalty kick miss, I admired his leadership and his willingness to stick up for and protect his teammate. Remember, he only joined the team on July 26, but his presence has been felt in the locker room.
It might have been surprising that Henry did not do the same (when the media entered the locker room, Henry was looking at either emails, missed phone calls, text messages, twitter or something else on his cell phone). But then again, sources around the league claim that he doesn't necessarily get along with Cooper.
Cahill just might be the one to provide the leadership this team lacks.
The Beckham factor
If anyone is doing comparisons between Beckham and Henry, yes the Galaxy underachieved in the English international's first two seasons, but reached MLS Cup, where it lost to Real Salt Lake in in the Englishman's third season in 2009. The defending champion Galaxy is primed to reach MLS Cup again under Bruce Arena (he took over the LA reins in 2008).
Yep, that is the same Bruce Arena who was fired by the Red Bulls in 2007, one of the worst moves in the 17-year history of a team that leads MLS in making confounding decisions.