Watching the Montreal v. New York game after having watched the historic UEFA Champions League Final only a few hours earlier did take a bit of the shine off watching a regular season MLS game. It’s a stark reminder just how much quality still needs to be attained by MLS players. But the bottom line is: I’m a huge Red Bulls fan and I wasn’t about to ignore the fact that the Red Bulls had a chance to win their fifth straight game to stay atop the Eastern Conference standings.
And as for that epic final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich, there isn’t much to say other than Munich choked. To score with only eight minutes remaining and then to go about acting as if the game was over was inexcusable. When Jupp Heynckes pulled Thomas Muller it was obvious that he was allowing Muller to get an encore hand from the crowd rather than doing what was best for the team. And as heroic as Didier Drogba‘s goal was with 2 minutes remaining, Arjen Robben‘s failure to convert on an extra time penalty kick was equally pathetic.
And poor Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bavarian midfielder who seemed inconsolable after hitting the post on Bayern’s final penalty kick opportunity. He’s always been one of my favorite players and I hope that he is able to redeem himself with Germany in Euro 2012. Certainly he will be a vital part of that squad. For me, Deutschland is still the favorite, even more so than España.
So, without further ado, let’s break down the Red Bulls big 2-1 road win in Montreal:
This Larry Bird guy is pretty good. While the real Larry Bird is busy watching his Pacers give the Miami Heat hell, his doppleganger Ryan Meara is quickly becoming an elite MLS goaltender. He once again performed great under pressure. While he remains great at coming off his line and being aggressive, it was his ability to make old fashioned saves which most impressed me Saturday. Of his five saves, he made two at full extension which really seemed to prevent goal scoring opportunity’s for Montreal. It’s easy to get excited when things are going well for a team, but Ryan Meara is playing like an established veteran. I find myself each week being unable to find anything wrong with his play. In fact, his goalkeeping may be as an important a factor in the Red Bulls first place position as any other. I never would have thought that a rookie would have been the Red Bulls answer in goal, but Meara keeps doing a superb job.
Depth, we have depth? Iceland winger Victor Palsson has been struggling to get playing time. After getting a rare start Saturday, he let the team down with big mental error early in the first half. With the score tied 1-1, Palsson’s dumb shove cost him a second yellow card and gave the Impact a big opportunity to take three points. But the Red Bulls once again showed that they’re more than a bunch of talented international players, that they also have depth. With guys like Brandon Barklage and rookie Connor Lade filling in for key players, the Red Bulls not only survived the man advantage by Montreal, but scored a go-ahead goal.
Oh that MLS officiating: Unfortunately, the first half of the game was defined mostly by first time referee Ismail Elfath. His awarding of two questionable penalties put a damper on the game and didn’t really allow the game to find its own way. But then again, the MLS officiating has always been subpar. Let’s chalk this one up as Elfath being overzealous and hope he does better next time because we’re going to need better officiating if this league is to grow. From a Red Bulls standpoint however, the bad calls are bound to come and it’s nice to see that they can thrive despite them.
The Golden Boot? There is no doubt that Chris Wondolowski is having yet another fantastic season. But so is Kenny Cooper. While MLS fans have known for years how good Wondolowski is, American fans are starting to realize that Kenny Cooper is too. MSG announcer Shep Messing, has actually declared on broadcast that Cooper and Wondolowski are the USA’s best two strikers and that Jurgen Klinnsman should take notice. I’m not sure about that, but they certainly remain intriguing choices with National Team favorite Edson Buddle playing so poorly. In the meantime watching Cooper thrive, even without Thierry Henry present has been a lot of fun. The big target man has shown that he is not a product of playing alongside the all-time great Frenchman. Still only 27, he does seem bound to earn USMNT attention. But for now, I’ll settle for the intrigue of Cooper trying to win the Golden Boot.