This was supposed to be a big test for the up and coming New York Red Bulls as they were facing for the second time the defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls they were without Dane Richards (Jamaica) and Bouna Coundoul (Senegal) as they were called in for National Team duty. But it looked like that Salt Lake was on the offensive side as they had two solid chances to get a lead but luckily for New York, Andy Williams’s shot in the ninth minute nailed the near post and on a free kick situation, the ball was cleared yet Salt Lake had a rebound but that shot nailed the post as well.
Throughout the match this was a physical battle that had both sides trading punches. You could see the field in Red Bull Arena getting torn up every single time there was a solid challenge. If it wasn’t Mehdi Ballouchy fighting it out with Kyle Beckerman, it was a battle between two Costa Rican players as Roy Miller and Alvaro Saborio clashed. But when there seemed to be some trouble for the back line of the Red Bulls, Tim Ream hustled back and made many ball winning plays to disrupt any chances Salt Lake wanted. “It’s not one guy, we emphasize team defense” said Ream. “Carlos (Mendes) did a good job of slowing the ball up. That’s what we worked on. Slow the ball up and you’re going to have help coming.”
Give Jason Kreis plenty of credit as this man who was one of Major League Soccer’s top offensive scorers in the early years of his career and was asked to give up scoring to lead men as head coach; what he has done in a short period of time has to be a success story within itself. Not only did he coach his side to win their first MLS Cup Championship, but as of right now his club is looking to be one of the favorites to make a solid run as a contender for the CONCACAF Champions League. If they would’ve held on to that two goal lead being away at Cruz Azul down in Mexico during group play, there was a possibility for him to be a future candidate as head coach of the National Team.
But when you describe the top two surprises on the Red Bulls side of the field, it has to be head coach Hans Backe and rookie center back Tim Ream. This season has been a joy to watch for the first time since the 2000 season as the MetroStars. He has gotten his club to actually compete hard and consistent all season long. Even against Real Salt Lake he felt the match was evenly played. “It was a very tight game, it never really opened up” said Backe. “There weren’t many scoring chances, it was very tight throughout. They (Real Salt Lake) are very strong in the back and they can defend well.”
At the end of the day the Red Bulls earned a home draw that gives them a two point lead for the Eastern Division lead as the Columbus Crew lost to the Chicago Fire on Friday night. If they are going to be clear from Columbus then a win at PPL Park in the Philadelphia area along with a Crew loss will make the last match of the season unimportant.