…I’M CRAIG HUTCHINSON: NO POINTS, BUT SOME POSITIVES AGAINST LA

NewYorkRedBulls.com Correspondent Craig Hutchinson continues his regular column on RedBullsReader.com today with a look back at the Red Bulls match with LA, taking positives from the match, which saw the home debut of Rafa Marquez and the first home MLS match for New York’s three Designated Players.  If you have a question or comment for Craig, share your thoughts in the comments section.

Many people have been touting the LA Galaxy as the best of the MLS for most of the season and Saturday saw them come to Red Bull Arena and take all three points in a 1-0 win. But if they really are the elite team in this league, how far away from them are the Red Bulls in terms of quality and performance?

For me personally, and I’m sure it was the same for many of the fans, this game has been one to look forward to for much of the season. Even hours before the game, I felt an air of excitement just walking around outside the Arena where fans were enjoying the interactive zone and beer garden. It almost felt like the Grand Opening again, beautiful weather, a capacity crowd and a lot of excitement and anticipation for what might be.

Not only was it a showdown between two teams, 1st in the West against 2nd in the East, but many of the individuals in the Arena were enough to attract attention of the casual observer. For many fans it was a chance to see U.S hero Landon Donovan for the first time since the World Cup (not that he got a hero’s welcome while wearing an LA uniform); David Beckham still draws a lot of attention despite still nursing his way back from his torn Achilles (another month before he starts playing he told me in the tunnel pre-game); for the Red Bulls, alongside his former Barcelona teammate Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez made his home debut for the team.

Former New York, LA and U.S great Clint Mathis was honored before the game by both the club and ESC after announcing his retirement two weeks ago. Another Metro legend Tab Ramos was on hand to help with the presentation. Additionally, anyone who decided to check out the Sky Boxes during the game may have also been able to spot a few celebrities. Sat directly behind me were Thierry’s friend Tony Parker and wife Eva Longoria and it was mighty difficult concentrating on the game when one of the most beautiful women in the world is a turned-head view away!

The game didn’t take long to raise excitement either. If Chris Birchall’s long range effort off the crossbar in the seventh minute was a warning, the Red Bulls didn’t take note as just three minutes later Marquez was caught in possession in midfield and a beautifully weighted through ball by Juninho split the Red Bulls defense for native New Yorker Edison Buddle to race on to and calmly finish past Bouna Coundoul. For the next 80 minutes the Red Bulls were unable to force an equalizer despite having chances. Juan Pablo went close a few times – a freekick just past the left hand post, a header off the bar, another header off the line (where Tim Ream also saw his follow up also cleared off the line). Henry was put though on goal at one point, but quick awareness from Ricketts in the LA goal saw him able to come out and block the ball. Indeed Henry could have won about three penalties in the space of 10 seconds as he was continuously impeded in the box, a play that ended with Landon Donovan putting Dane Richards in a headlock, throwing him to the ground and unbelievable winning a free kick for his troubles. Angel got a yellow card for vociferously being in disagreement with the decision, but I can’t blame JPA’s reactions.

Obviously, losing a home game is disappointing, but were there positives to be taken from the game? Absolutely.

Hans was happy after the game with the way the team performed. The defense was fairly solid and the team held possession and created chances against a very organized LA defense. Dane Richards, often criticized by fans, is on a good run of form and turned in a lively display on the right. Rafa Marquez, by his own admission, did not play up to his usual standards. We all need to remember that both he and Henry’s bodies are in completely different shape from the rest of the guys in the league as they are still working their way to full fitness following the European off season (the probable reason that Thierry has picked up slight hamstring and calf injuries since arriving). Henry admitted after training on Thursday that probably the best thing for him and Rafa to have done would have been to train with the team for 3-4 weeks to build up their fitness levels before taking the field. They are of course competitors and they couldn’t wait to get out on the pitch for their new club despite not yet being 100%. When they do both get up to that level, the rest of the league better beware!

Saturday sees the team head north of the border to Canada to battle Toronto for the second time in 10 days, a team that Henry thought was a much tougher opponent than LA. Toronto will be looking to avenge their 1-0 defeat at Red Bull Arena last week while New York will be looking to build on their performance against LA and turn it into points.

I won’t be heading up to Toronto, but will instead enjoy the matinee game at a lake house, in the sunshine and with a cold beverage in hand. I’m not sure Saturday afternoons get much better than that!

Until next time, I’m Craig Hutchinson…

Craig hails from the town of Barnsley in South Yorkshire, England and gained a BA honors degree in Sports Studies and Physical Education at the University of York St. John, North Yorkshire, England. After graduation, he worked for five years as a professional youth soccer coach throughout the United States. He joined the New York Red Bulls in 2008 as a coach in the youth Training Programs and Regional Development Schools. He became the team’s video broadcaster at the beginning of the 2010 season.  Craig’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of RedBullsReader or the New York Red Bulls.

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