July 17, 2012
MY TWO CENTS
Red Bulls’ Analyst tackles the strange case of the missing attacking midfielder
Chris Brandon Whitaker writes monthly about The Red Bulls’ Analyst: analysis for a team, therapy for the fans.
By Chris Brandon Whitaker
Special to BigAppleSoccer.com
For this month’s session, the Red Bulls’ Analyst will discuss the phenomenon of the phantom limb with regard to the team’s void at center midfield.
Although blessed with talented strikers in Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper and now Sebastien Le Toux, the New York Red Bulls’ game plan seems to be pointless keep-away possession rather than getting the ball to them in dangerous areas near the goal. Occasionally, a wild cross will rocket over the box from the wings, but for the most part, the forwards have to drop back and tackle the ball from their own teammates in order to make a dribbling dash into the 18-yard box. The result has been a predictable and easily defended attack, despite having quality goal scorers.
Ever since Amado Guevara left in 2007 and a three-month flirtation with Dwayne De Rosario in 2011, the Red Bulls have been without a successful attacking center midfielder, a creative player who can either score clinically on his own or link up with the strikers to create goal scoring opportunities. For the most part, they have tried to bypass this dire need by using two other formations:
* The Bucket o’ Yawns where two defensive midfielders bore everyone as they shore up a notoriously leaky defense, or;
* The Snub-Nosed Diamond where a box-to-box midfielder plays slightly farther up-field, but snubs the strikers from the center circle.
While the latter has worked to maintain possession in the midfield, neither has done much to worry opposing defenses.
Mental Health Issue: The Phantom Limb
In psychology, a phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing appendage is still attached to the body. Often painful, phantom limbs make their patients feel as though they can gesture or function normally using the missing part. In much the same way, the Red Bulls believe as though they can generate a fearsome attack without an attacking center midfielder, even though the results since 2007 clearly indicate otherwise.
Therapeutic Intervention: Mirror Therapy
One of the most successful ways to stop the pain of a phantom limb is to use a mirror to reflect the healthy one, so that the patient can move the reflection representing the phantom limb from a painful position and eventually to eliminate the illusion altogether. By the same token, the Red Bulls front office needs to take a long look in the mirror and come to terms with the pain that their missing attacking center midfielder is causing the team and fans alike.
Counseling Homework Assignment: Stare Down the Illusion
While general manager and sporting director Erik Soler and coach Hans Backe take a long look in the mirror at themselves, here are some reinforcement statements they need to bark out loud in order to break their illusion of victory without an attacking center midfielder:
* Our strikers cannot take on defenders with speed in the final third!
* Our wingers cannot link up with the strikers from the flanks!
* Our center backs cannot create scoring opportunities with long balls lobbed into the box!
* Our defensive midfielders and Mehdi Ballouchy’s back passes do not pressure the opponents’ back line!
* Our midfielders are not clinical finishers, as the majority of goals scored in 2012 have come from strikers and defenders!
Prognosis: The Third Designated Player
We’ve heard it time and again from the front office, but the only hope for getting a dominant attacking center midfielder will be by signing another highly paid Designated Player. The question remains regarding the timing, however. They failed to find one during the pre-season, and the current summer transfer window is rapidly coming to a close. This is the last chance the Red Bulls have to break the phantom illusion that they can compete without an attacking center midfielder.
(For a city with more psychotherapists than bartenders and a team with more issues than a magazine stand, the Red Bulls’ Analyst offers therapeutic counsel rather than a cure.)
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