New Tactics, New Result in New Jersey

How does a team keep from hitting rock bottom less than 10 games into a season? Find a team that’s struggling even more, step on them and climb. New York did just that Friday night at the Swamp, scoring a club record four first half goals en route to a 4-1 mauling of the lowly San Jose Earthquakes.

Two Jorge Rojas goals in the first 15 minutes took the suspense of the match early, and additional tallies by Juan Pablo Angel and Macoumba Kandji sealed the points for New York, moving them into a tie with New England for fifth in the Eastern Conference. Ryan Johnson added a consolation tally at the end of the first half, but it was already too late for San Jose, who have only woeful FC Dallas to thank for keeping them off the table bottom.

“Today was the game we were expecting to have a long time ago,” Angel said afterwards. “The first half was a different class in terms of the way we played, how we closed them down, we denied them space, we denied them the ball.”

As Juan Carlos Osorio had hinted throughout the week, New York came out with different personnel and a different approach to try to turn the tide of what has been a trying season so far. Albert Celades made his first career MLS start alongside Seth Stammler in central midfield. Rojas and Sinisa Ubiparipovic played much narrower than would have been asked of usual starters Dane Richards and Khano Smith in the attacking midfield, allowing room for the fullbacks to roam the flanks.

“We had a lot of contribution from the fullbacks tonight,” said Osorio. “We had a very good distribution from the midfield and Seth (Stammler) and Albert (Celades) showed very good signs of a partnership.

Despite the changes, it was the recognition of a major mismatch that fueled the first half barrage from New York, as San Jose left back Eric Denton was overwhelmed by Kandji, who was repeatedly pulling wide to find space. He nearly broke free in the second minute as he picked up a through ball in the channel and drove his cross directly in the midsection of ‘Quakes goalkeeper Joe Cannon.

The breakthrough wasn’t long in coming, however. Kandji again broke free down the right side and drew a free kick near the touchline. Rojas curled a ball in towards Kevin Goldthwaite, who missed his attempt at a glancing header. The attempt wrong-footed Cannon, who could only flail in vain as the ball bounced inside the far post.

San Jose had little time to shake off their bad luck, as New York pressed down the right once again in the 12th minute, earning a deep throw in. Right back Carlos Johnson, who spent much of the first half in the attacking third, fired in a line drive throw-in directly to the forehead of Kandji, who’s flick found Rojas all along on the back post to double the lead.

“I was looking for players who were coming in to the box,” said Rojas. “We worked on that during the week.”

Rojas’ goals, his first two in MLS, seemed a due reward for the Venezuelan International’s practice work and improved league form.

“I think Jorge had been knocking on the door for quite a while,” said Osorio. “I think when he plays farther up the pitch, he is very good to us.”

Osorio’s other prized signing, Celades, also made his presence known. Along with contributing to the dominating midfield effort with his assured possession and short passing, he also added desperately needed vision into New York’s attack. He played Kandji through in the 18th minute only to be foiled by Cannon. He then found Kandji alone in space again on the right side, who then drove a ball across the six yard box to a grateful Angel’s waiting boot.

It seemed very much an epiphany for Kandji, who had missed his strike partner on similar runs earlier in the half. Angel quickly acknowledged his teammate’s effort.

“I keep learning, I keep improving every game,” said Kandji. “I’m going to just pick it up and try and play better next game.”

The lanky Senegalese striker wasn’t finished, using his seemingly endless reach to poke a ball clean from San Jose centerback Kelly Gray. He then raced on to the loose ball and slammed it home without needing another touch to give the Red Bulls a 4-0 lead in the 40th minute.

San Jose looked a defeated side even before the half, but provided a glimmer of hope for Frank Yallop by pulling back a goal before the half. Former New York Red Bull Chris Leitch overlapped down the right side, and his searing cross was cleared by Pacheco only as far as Ramiro Corrales. He nodded back across the goalmouth to a waiting Ryan Johnson, while the Red Bulls unsuccessfully appealed for offside.

It was too little, too late for San Jose who dropped to 1-5-2 in the young season. Despite maintaining most of the possession in the second half, they rarely threatened. Yallop’s decision to wait until less than 20 minutes remained to add a third forward seemed telling of his team’s plight. Playing without Darren Huckerby for the fourth straight game, the Earthquakes lacked a dominating personality in the final third with Bobby Convey and Aturo Alvarez drifting from the play for much of the game.

The Red Bulls, on the other hand, seemed poised to turn their season around. And they’ll get to make that turn on a jughandle, as they won’t have to leave New Jersey for a league game until June. The competition will certainly get stiffer, and with league ties against Houston and Chicago straddling a midweek open cup fixture against DC United on the 20th, Osorio’s approach to squad rotation will be in the spotlight.

“It’s been a lot of ups and downs this year,” remarked Angel. “Energy hasn’t been a question in this team…tonight we were much more organized (than before).”

New York Red Bulls Player Ratings

Cepero – 5 – His shotstopping is never in doubt, showing his skill on a nice save to deny Alvarez in the second half. But he flapped at several crosses on the night and looked uncomfortable with the ball at his feet.

Goldthwaite – 7 – Solid as usual. Grows in confidence every game in the back, and seems to be quickly becoming the leader of the back four.

Petke – 7 – Matched up with the bruiser Cam Weaver on the night and came out on top. With Brian Ching, Brian McBride and Conor Casey coming to town this month, he very well might be the most important Red Bull this month. Stock up on the advil.

Pacheco – 6 – Got forward at times, and was very effective when he did so. Mostly seemed content to stay at home and allow Rojas to roam free. Bailed out Cepero by taking a fierce shot off from Convey off the forehead late in the match.

Johnson – 8 – Terrific game for the Costa Rican, who found acres of space to streak down the right side with Sinisa pinching in. It took his midfielders a while to start finding him, but they eventually did. His surreal, arrow-flighted long throw-ins created a goal and seemed to unsettle San Jose. Also, no red card.

Stammler – 7 – Huge motor on this guy. If he had come along in 2002, he might have very well had a similar career to Pablo Mastroeni. Also like Pablo, he often was a little too eager to charge forward, exposing his backline on occasion.

Celades – 7 – Took a while to get his rhythm, but started to show his qualities midway through the first half, making a point of finding Kandji and the raiding Johnson repeatedly in the seams. His composure and vision were at times a step above anyone on the field. If he can stay healthy, he can be one of the league’s best. Ever.

Ubiparipovic – 6 – Tidy on the ball and a terrific motor. Left the flank play to Kandji and the fullbacks. Will be a very valuable player for NY this year.

Rojas – 8 – Looked extremely comfortable in the narrow attacking midfield role handed to him by Osorio. Repeatedly found space to operate and looked lethal when he did tallying his first two goals in the league. Still showed tendencies to dribble in bad spots on occasion, but he seems to be catching on to the speed of play in MLS.

Kandji – 8 – Eric Denton will be having nightmares about Macoumba for months after this one. Repeatedly pulled wide while the midfield stayed narrow, and that’s where he is at his best. His final ball to Angel looked like learned behavior from the training ground, and Angel made sure that he acknowledged it. Often got to loose balls and turned the corner when it seemed nearly impossible to do so.

Angel – 8 – The most telling sight for this game was the complete absence of Angel in the midfield. He stayed high all game, providing terrific target and hold up play. Will score 15+ goals if the service continues as it was tonight.

Substitutes were not rated, as the 4-1 scoreline didn’t allow for a very competitive second half.

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