Tuesday, July 15, 2008

David Beckham Is Coming To Town

David Beckham is coming to New York, well New Jersey.

David Beckham as he will look in the Men's Room at Giants Stadium

Beckham's team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, will play Red Bull New York on Saturday night, at Giants Stadium. I will be in attendance.

Last year's match was a spectacular display of athletic prowess and sports excitement that ended with the Red Bulls beating the Gals 5-4. This year's match-up is receiving almost no attention. Odd.

My Red Bulls are struggling.

Star striker Juan Pablo Angel missed a number of matches with lower back pain that is exacerbated by playing on concrete covered in artificial turf. Sadly, most MLS teams play on concrete, instead of grass.

Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore

Phenom Jozy Altidore, who was instrumental in last year's victory over the Gals, was sold to Villareal, in Spain, and has not yet been replaced by anyone who can fill his shoes. The team has slid to the bottom of the standings.

The oft-injured Claudio Reyna has not played in some time, has not been announced fit for action, and is rumored to be considering retirement.

Angel is back, however, and could be joined on the squad by at least two newcomers. Venezuelan national team midfielder Jorge Rojas and Argentinean midfielder Juan Pietravallo have been signed by the Red Bulls and will perhaps provide some strength in the back, where our porous defense is allowing far too many shots on beleaguered goalkeeper Jon Conway.

Rojas and Pietravallo are eligible to start playing today, and should be on the game day roster Saturday if their work visas are sorted out. They are complete unknowns to us. There is no way of knowing if they will help the team, but they certainly cannot hurt, given rapid drop to the bottom.

Defenders Diego Jimenez and Gabriel Chichero are also supposed to join the team, but the front office has made no announcement. We need some new defenders. I am happy with Andrew Boyens, who receives much more fan criticism than he deserves; but our defense is really our biggest problem.

If Rojas and Pietravallo are not eligible to play on Saturday, then I fear a very difficult evening for my team. If Rojas and Pietravallo are eligible to play, then any outcome will be tempered by the excitement of their arrivals.

The Red Bulls have not replaced Jozy Altidore. There is no viable striker playing next to Angel. When Angel plays as the lone striker, he is triple-teamed by the opposing defense and unable to do much of anything. Coach Juan Carlos Osario has been experimenting with midfielder Dane Richards playing alongside Angel, but it has only been marginally successful. Oscar Etcheverry is on the roster as a forward, and should be able to work alongside Angel as a striker but has been unable to produce anything, and seems wholly uninterested in earning the money he is paid. Etcheverry should not appear on the field again.

Youngster Rickey Schramm is also on the roster. He is a developmental player, a forward, who has not been given any opportunity to play at the highest level. The 22-year-old should be out on the field getting experience and I think this match is the right time. Put Schramm up top next to Angel and give him an opportunity to play.

And we cannot forget John Wolyniec. Woly has been a stalwart for the team, and is perfect as a late-game sub. His unconventional style and his enthusiasm are uniquely suited to wrecking havoc on an opponent's back line.

The Red Bulls' midfield is our strength. Dane Richards and Danleigh Borman have proven to be excellent wingers, and Dave Van den Bergh has been the team's only anchor during this troublesome season. With Seth Stammler emerging as the midfield general and able captain, the addition of Rojas and Pietravallo make a crowded midfield.

But it's the defense that's the problem.

Goalkeeper Jon Conway does a perfectly good job in the net, and needs to have a more solid defense in front of him. Boyens, whom I mentioned earlier, has been a good addition to the team; but the rest of the defensive line is really a revolving door.

For some unknown reason, Coach Osario will not give Hunter Freeman a permanent position in the back. Freeman deserves to be starting every match, until such time as the team employs more talented defenders.

With Freeman and Boyens in the back, one more defender is needed to start.

Reading off a piece of paper, one sees that Jeff Parke and Kevin Goldthwaite have the experience needed to play on the back line. Parke has not been given ample opportunity to prove himself, and Goldthwaite has been given ample opportunity to make everyone raise their eyebrows and scratch their heads wondering what he is doing in the starting line-up.

If no new defenders arrive this week to train with the team, then I think Parke should be considered for a start against the Galaxy.

To make things more exciting, however, Osario should be playing developmental player Johnny Gilkerson, who has had two starts, with mixed results. He is young and should be played more regularly.

Sadly, most of the people in the stands at Giants Stadium will know little about Angel, Schramm, Richards, and van den Bergh. They won't be able to distinguish Stammler from Parke from Freeman from Boyens. They will know nothing about our frustration with Goldthwaite, Etcheverry, Reyna, Mike Magee and Chris Leitch. They'll care little for the progress of Schramm, Gilkerson, Borman, Luke Sassano, and Chris Megaloudis. Most of the people in the stands will be from the Metropolitan New York area, but will know little and care less about the Red Bulls.

Most of them will be wearing L.A. Galaxy jerseys with "Herbalife" emblazoned across the front and "Beckham" emblazoned across the back. They aren't there to see their local team, they are there to consume David Beckham.

And this is sad. Those New Yorkers and New Jerseyites who love David Beckham, but know nothing of their local team, are doing themselves a disservice. Juan Pablo Angel is a world-class player who is a joy to watch. Local soccer fans should be coming to the stadium to watch him, even when David Beckham isn't in town.

Major League Soccer is the best deal in town. Most families can’t afford to attend a baseball, NBA, NHL, or NFL game. The cost is prohibitive. MLS is not. The play is fast and furious, the players are strong and play hard, and the matches are exciting.

MLS is the best deal in town.

Come out and watch a match or two!

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