New York – San Jose Analysis

New York Red Bulls' Thierry Henry (C) is tackled San Jose Earthquakes' Jason Hernandez (L) and Bobby Convey (R) during the second half of their Major League Soccer (MLS) Eastern Conference Semi Finals playoff match at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey November 4, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Major League Soccer’s convoluted playoff system has its first victim. If MLS actually seeded the playoffs based on points, New York would have played Seattle. Instead, the Red Bulls faced off against theoretical eighth seed San Jose. All seemed to be in place for New York to advance following a 1-0 first leg victory. And though New York was the more aggressive side last night, a 3-1 defeat knocked out the East’s regular season champion.

1st Half

While neither side made any personnel changes in their Starting XI (Thierry Henry was available on New York’s bench), San Jose did take a bit of a risk by moving Chris Wondolowski, MLS’ top goalscorer, from striker to right midfield. Early in the match it looked as though San Jose was prepared to have forward Ryan Johnson swing wide as Wondolowski cut toward the box, but Bobby Convey’s early goal (6) led to a more static, and defensive, formation.

San Jose wanted to cause multiple defenders to keep track of Wondolowski by having him cut into the box from midfield.

The visitors were a bit lucky to strike first, as lax marking from New York left back Roy Miller and defensive midfielder Rafa Marquez, along with a failed clearance, gave Convey an opportunity to even the aggregate score. Marquez’ mistake was the most glaring; the former Barcelona star demonstratively threw up his hands after he failed to track Convey’s run, incorrectly hinting that someone else should have been marking the San Jose winger.

New York was not discouraged by the aggregate equalizer, however. As the half progressed, Hans Backe’s 4-4-2 began to give San Jose problems. Left midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy often swung inward to link with the precocious Juan Agudelo, whose darting runs from just in front of the San Jose center backs were troublesome all night. Additionally, whenever Ballouchy moved inside, Joel Lidpere shifted out, with all three occasionally benefiting from the forward runs of Miller. On the other flank, Dane Richards stayed much wider than Ballouchy to stretch the San Jose defense.

New York's midfield was more flexible than San Jose's, and left back Miller went forward more than either San Jose starting fullback.

Were it not for San Jose keeper Jon Busch, the series could have gone New York’s way by halftime. Busch only had to make two saves the entire match, but he was mind-readingly good at cutting off New York’s crosses before they reached their intended target. He intercepted five such passes on the night. Busch’s efforts sent the two teams to the locker rooms even on aggregate.

2nd Half

As the half began, San Jose was forced into a slight change because left back Ramiro Corrales went down at the end of the first half. Convey slipped into Corrales’ fullback spot and Arturo Alvarez came on to assume command of the left wing.

Until New York was forced to go for broke in the last few minutes, the formations and tactics changed very little. The three goals in the half came about through defensive letdowns instead of tactical tinkering.

  • Convey’s second (76) occurred after Tim Ream – who rarely set a foot wrong in either game – didn’t step up and deny Convey service from Alvarez.
  • Two minutes later it was Convey’s turn to break down. Displaying the defending instincts of a natural winger, the former National Team standout let Juan Pablo Ángel walk right up to an open net and head home a cross (78).
  • In the 81st, Wondolowski displayed a deft touch to slant Convey’s chip into the far corner, but Miller failed to impede Wondo’s progress in any way.

    New York's final formation was basically 1-GetEveryoneElseForward.

After Wondolowski’s goal, New York finally decided to go for broke. Backe brought on Henry, Jeremy Hall, and Ibrahim Salou, and their 3-4-3 was difficult for San Jose to stop. Two minutes before stoppage time, Henry, following more poor marking, had a chance to pull New York level on aggregate. The DP’s uncontested header skied over the bar.

5.6 Million Dollar Man Wasn’t Better, Stronger, Faster

If you asked any soccer fan in any country to choose either Thierry Henry or Chris Wondolowski to take your team’s most important shot, the answer would be a unanimous, Wondolowski who?

Despite Busch’s preternatural interceptions, Agudelo’s trickery, Lindpere’s industry, and Convey’s outstanding second leg, the series was ultimately decided on two sequences. Henry – World Cup victor, Ligue 1 Gold Boot winner, back-to-back European Golden Boot winner, four-time Premier League top goalscorer – missed the target. Wondolowski, one-time MLS Golden Boot winner, didn’t.

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Bradley's Receding Hairline says:

    Quite the match! The other teams would do well to top this one.

    Augdelo was fun to watch. Convey was mostly great. And Henry failed! What more could you want?

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