The Red Bulls rolled into Chicago for Sunday's feature set to play a Fire team that by most coherent measures was laboriously wandering through one of the ugliest starts to a season in MLS history. The Fire have been awful everywhere — the third-worst goal differential in league history at this point in the season is the thesis argument — but particularly on the attack. With an expected goals tally of 0.69 that only three teams can better and fewer than two and a half shots on goal per game, it had to be a bit disheartening to watch Dominic Oduro cut a tough angle and pound in a goal for Columbus earlier on Saturday. Possessions per game was the only outlier statistic, which makes sense when you account for the Fire's possessions, which are routinely aimless, horizontal and often end in utility-man Wells Thompson (!) taking the decisive shot. Not good.
So here was NYRB, occupying the comfortable viscera between "good" and "okay" that it trademarked under its MetroStars sygel, ready to make us all recognize that even without Henry and Espindola, it could cling to the East's upper echelon. If LA can do it without Donovan and Becks, why shouldn't NY be expected to overpower Chicago? At the very least get a draw?
Ah yes, intrepid traveler, but you know NYRB better than most. And any back line that employs Markus Holgersson is ultimately unable to hold the jocks for the worst back line in the game's history. Most of us figured Olave would be better than he's been, but I suppose that backs up RSL's shrewd move to offload a player who's been shockingly bereft of tactical sense early. But he's scoring goals! So that's something. This defending, however, is decidedly not something.
Yeah, it's early. Henry was a late sub, Luyindula is still finding his legs, Mike Petke needs time to settle in/better organize his closet full of nothing but polycotton cardigans. Blahblahblah. Heard it before. Here's what will happen. NYRB will scuffle early, catch completely on fire in July and settle into a slow burn down to the nub by October. They'll qualify as a wild card, Henry will stamp around like he's figuring his Zidane head-butt mic-drop move out of MLS, Marquez will complete his heel turn by storming out of the tunnel in the second half to piledrive Petke into the bench and they'll drop out of the playoffs. All of these things will happen.
If NYRB has proven anything since being bought out by its Austrian overlords, it's that payroll in MLS, unlike in other countries, cannot buy you a trophy in the same way. The cap requires a circumventor in the front office, somebody who can scout shrewdly and purchase wisely. NYRB is a vestige of the old style, where big names and huge sums take the place of meaningful, to-the-bone analysis. Anyone who's watched Juninho hobble around on two half-legs and flail at a startling number of his free kicks and corners can attest.
LA and NYRB may have near equal purchasing power. But they are not equals. It's not hard to figure out why.
- Will Parchman