New York Color Wars

Soccer in New York has confused just about everyone this year. As with every sport’s team in the Big Apple under intense pressure at all time, New York’s soccer teams have been no exception. For the first time, the city that never sleeps has two MLS teams. The two have spent all season competing for dominance of New York in a battle of red versus blue.

David Villa
Villa has been the captain all season for City, scoring 15 goals in the process.

 In just their first ever season, New York City FC entered with lofty expectations. Signing Spanish striker David Villa offered a lot of promise and certainly brought some excitement to the club. The signing of Frank Lampard shortly after that pushed fans’ expectations even higher than most would have thought for a first year club. US international Mix Diskerud brought even more press to the expansion team, as did youngster Patrick Mullins arriving from New England.

NYC got off to a decent start to the season. They seemed like they might just meet those expectations after a solid start but then the wheels fell off. New York failed to win in 11 straight matches, including seven losses. They started winning games again at the beginning of June and climbed out of the Eastern Conference basement. Andrea Pirlo arrived from Juventus on a transfer and Lampard finally started playing for NYC. However, they have only climbed to the outskirts of the playoff picture. They are even with Montreal on total points but have played five fewer matches than the Impact leaving them in a rough position. Overall, City has been fairly disappointing with the star power they field.

Bradley_Wright_Phillips
BWP leads the Red Bulls with 11 goals this season.

On the other hand, cross river rival New York Red Bulls were thought to be down and out this year. There was a changing of the guard as Thierry Henry retired and Jesse Marsch replaced Mike Petke as head coach. Most figured that it would be a year of rebuilding. Instead, New York made some shrewd moves to up their talent level and find themselves in a great position to win the Eastern Conference. Sacha Kljestan, Gonzolo Veron and youngster Matt Miazga have all been great additions to the starting XI this year.

The Red Bulls have marched to the third best point total in the Eastern Conference this year but the best points per game average of any team in the east until this point. Bradley Wright-Phillips, Mike Grella, Lloyd Sam and Kljestan have accounted for the majority of the offense for New York this year, each with at least five goals. That approach differs greatly from the star powered style of NYC. The Red Bulls are a lock for the playoffs at this stage after most expected them to miss the postseason altogether. 

So far, these two clubs have met three times. Continuing the trend of surprises, the Red Bulls have beaten NYC in all three of those matches by an aggregate score of 7-2. You would think that City could at least manage a draw in one of those three. This has been the beginning of a new, intense rival in the city of New York. To this point though, New York is definitely red. 

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MLS playoff hopefuls after the first fortnight of the season

I will admit it. I was completely wrong about the start to the MLS season. I truly believed that MLS and its players would be unable to find a level ground for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Turns out, the two sides were able to come up with a new agreement, which meant that the season would start on schedule. Good thing they did too because the last two weeks have been truly exciting. The parity in the MLS is incredible as well, with only one team having won each of its first games. With two weeks down, it’s time to take a look at who the playoff teams at the end of this year will be.

Eastern Conference:

Number 6: New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls were a goal away from pushing into the MLS Final. However, without Tierry Henry, it is unlikely New York will be as high up in the standings. With two different Designated Player positions yet to be filled, the Red Bulls will be candidates to land a game changing player to make a big push for the playoffs. It worked for New England last year with Jermaine Jones.

Number 5: New York City FC
Another New York team clocks in at five. NYCFC actually sits atop the Eastern Conference at the moment, but that likely won’t last. David Villa proved last week that he can be a force and Ned Grabavoy looked strong in the midfield. Bringing in Frank Lampard midway through the season will provide a nice boost NYC will need to stay afloat for the postseason hunt.

Number 4: New England Revolution
The defending Eastern Conference champions look a bit rattled right now. Through two games, they have failed to register a point, outscored five goals to nil. However, the losses came against Seattle and NYC, both of whom will be in the postseason. New England needs to make some changes, but with time to right the ship, they should be fine.

Number 3: Orlando City SC
Sitting just behind New York City currently is the other fresh face to the MLS. With four point in their first two matches and a group of talented, promising players, Orlando has the assets needed to finish in the top three in the East. Ricardo Kaká is their leader and when he plays well, this is a tough club to beat. Defense will carry this club as far as they go.

Number 2: DC United
DC will once again find themselves near the top of the East. Bill Hamid is tough to beat in between the posts and more often than not, DC can find the offense needed to get a win. United allowed the fewest goals last tied with LA. Once again, DC will find a way to win low scoring games on their way to a top playoff seed.

Number 1: Columbus Crew
With Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain and Ethan Findlay running the show in Ohio, the Crew will be a tough outfit to beat. Those three have Columbus in a good spot already to begin the season sitting third after just two matches. If the Crew’s defensive performance steps up even marginally this year compared to last, this team will finish atop the Eastern Conference.

Western Conference:

Number 6: Houston Dynamo
Landing Cubo Torres in the offseason was a great move for the Dynamo. For a team that struggled to score and really got beat badly on a regular basis, getting a top goal scorer was a top priority. Their victory over Columbus shows that this team is ready to turn the corner and become a threat in the postseason.

Number 5: Sporting KC
Despite sitting last right now in the West, I think Kansas City will find a way into the postseason. It will be close but with Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer running the show, this team has enough talent to reach the playoffs. Predicated on defense, this will be a tough team to out over the course of the season. Their loss this year came at Dallas, which is more than acceptable given how good Dallas is.

Number 4: Real Salt Lake
Salt Lake returns to the playoffs in 2015. Here is yet another team that wins with its defense, allowing the third fewest goals in MLS just a season ago. Kyle Beckerman anchor this group and with Nick Rimando in between the posts, this team is tough to score on. If the collection of strikers for RSL can muster up some more goals this year, they could finish even higher.

Number 3: FC Dallas
Currently sitting as the king of the hill in the West and this no fluke. The two wins come against San Jose and Sporting KC, which gives them some credibility. Dallas won’t remain on top come seasons end with the two powers who control the West playing as well as they do but they will be a title contender come the fall.

Number 2: Los Angeles Galaxy
This is where LA finished its 2014 campaign and then went on to win the MLS Cup. I think they won’t mind a repeat. With Landon Donovan gone and Steven Gerrard not set to join the club until almost July, look for the Galaxy to slip a little bit from their 2014 form. This team though still outscored opponents by 32 goals last season. I don’t think they will be that dominate this year but they will make another playoff appearance as a top seed.

Number 1: Seattle Sounders FC
Once again, Seattle will finish on top in the West. After winning the Supporters Shield last year and qualifying for the playoffs every year in its existence, Seattle desperately wants a title. Making the postseason is no longer enough. The Sounders will certainly get their once again, but it remains to be seen if they can actually make the jump into the MLS Final, something this squad has still yet to do.

Top five most successful sports cities

As a continuation from yesterday’s piece, I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on the last 15 years of sports champions. More specifically, I am ranking the top ten sports cities in the US since 2000. This includes the five largest sports leagues in America, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. The rankings will mainly rely on championships won by a single city but I will also take into account appearances in the finals as well. Let’s see if your city cracked the top five.

#5 Chicago: 3 total titles in 6 total appearances
Chicago actually has fewer titles than San Antonio but gets the nod for the extra finals appearance and diversity across more than one sport. Chicago is home to the two-time finalist Fire of the MLS in 2000 and 2003. The Bears also claim the Windy City as home. Even though this NFL team hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1985, they did make it to 2007 Super Bowl. Despite the Cubs century long struggle to win the World Series, the White Sox claimed a title in 2005. The other two titles came from the NHL side. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013. Chicago has seen championship berths from the spread out across these 15 years. The Bulls, despite all the success in the 90s, have not made it to the finals since the turn of the century.

#4 Miami: 4 total titles in 6 total appearances
Florida’s major city clocks in at number four largely due to the success of the Miami Heat during this decade. The Heat made it to a NBA-record four straight NBA Finals, winning the middle two. The Heat also locked up a championship back in 2006 as well over the Dallas Mavericks. So yes, most of the credit goes to the NBA team but the baseball team based in Miami has a World Series title as well. The Marlins, who back then were only the Florida Marlins but still played in the city, won the 2003 World Series over the New York Yankees. The titles from two different sports gives Miami a boost. Now if only the Dolphins could help the city out. Soccer could be springing up as well soon as David Beckham seeks to set up a MLS expansion team. For now though, Miami is nowhere close to jumping over the top three cities on the list.

#3 Tri-State: 6 total titles in 15 total appearances
This seems like it is cheating a little bit but it is hard to differentiate New York and New Jersey. Despite being called the New York Giants, Jets and Red Bulls, all of these teams play in New Jersey, along with the Devils. Either way, The Giants locked up two Super Bowl titles in 2008 and 2012. The Red Bulls made a Cup run in 2008, falling short to Columbus. The Yankees won two World Series titles in 2000 and 2009, the 2000 one over the cross-town rival Mets. The Yanks also made the 2001 and 2003 Series. On the ice, the Devils have two Stanley Cups from runs in 2000 and 2003 to go along with losses in the 2001 and 2012 final. Even the Nets, who back then played in Jersey, made consecutive title appearances in 2002 and 2003. Worth noting, New Jersey based teams have accounted for 4 titles in 9 appearances while New York teams only have 2 championships in 6 showings. Looks like Jersey is holding up their end of the deal…

#2 Boston: 9 total titles in 18 total appearances
You know a city is dominant when they have more finals appearances than there are years in our criteria. Boston’s 18 championship runs is one less than the number one team on this list. The cities 9 titles are incredible though. The largest contributor has been the Patriots, with Super Bowl victories in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2015 and losses in 2008 and 2012. The Red Sox have held up their end of the bargain as well, delivering 3 World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013. The Celtics and Bruins even locked up a title each in 2008 and 2011 respectively. The little known fact is that Revolution actually have contributed the second most title appearances, with five. The issue is that they have come up short every time in the MLS Final. Still Boston’s titles are very impressive. They just couldn’t edge out number one.

#1 Los Angeles: 14 total titles in 19 total appearances
Wow. 14 titles in 15 years. It’s no wonder stars love going to Los Angeles. With teams in every one of the sports being considered but football, LA probably solid chances of succeeding but still 13 championships in 15 years in unprecedented. The LA Galaxy have brought home 5 MLS Cups in 7 attempts in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The Lakers have the same numbers with their titles coming in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. The Kings have been stellar of late, nabbing two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. The Anaheim Ducks grabbed a trophy on the ice in 2007. The Anaheim Angeles added a World Series title in 2002 as well. When one city has three different teams winning titles in a single year (2002), there is really no discussion. This city has truly become Titletown since the year of 2000.

Disagree with the list, tell me who you think should have been included and who should have missed the cut.

The state of the Red Bulls

It started with Thierry Henry announcing he would not be returning. From there, the 2014 Red Bulls slowly fell apart. Head Coach Mike Petke was dismissed. Erik Alexander and Abroise Oyongo were traded to Montreal. Even Tim Cahill left for China. This team will resemble nothing of the 2014 version. That might not be a bad thing though. It was clear that it was time for change in New York. They have some pieces to build around in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Dax McCarty. Here is what has changed and what could happen next surrounding this MLS club.

Everything starts from the top down; Jesse Marsch replaced Petke. This is not Marsch’s first MLS gig as he headed the Montreal Impact in their inaugural season in 2012. Previous to that, Marsch had worked under former US Men’s National team manager Bob Bradley as an assistant for the 2010 World Cup and 2011 Gold Cup. Having some experience will be key if the Red Bulls want to even come close to matching last season’s success. The bigger issue for Marsch is that he probably still does not have his entire roster in place.

Marsch’s squad may have lost Oyongo and Alexander in the trade with the Impact but they did receive an allocation spot and midfielder Felipe Martins. Martins is a huge asset, as he will be the one running the midfield. He finished eighth in MLS last season with ten assists on the year. New York did not waste any time in using the allocation spot either as it snapped up Sacha Kljestan from Belgium’s Anderlecht. Kljestan has a history in the MLS, as he was actually an all-star in 2008 for Chivas USA. He also has 46 caps for the US National team. This might not be a huge splash, but he will be an experienced player ready to work and provide valuable leadership to New York.

Additionally, the Red Bulls have plenty of room to improve. With Henry and Cahill leaving, New York now has two designated player spots available to fill some major holes in the starting eleven. DP slots are available for teams to sign players that fall outside the threshold of the salary cap. The fact that Red Bulls have two of them is a big deal. That means they have the wiggle room to bring in big name talent. New York was in play for US international Jozy Altidore when it was clear he wanted a return to MLS but he is headed to Toronto instead. Rumors are that Marsch and company are looking for a top striker to pair with Wright-Phillips and probably a defensive back to help solidify the defense alongside Roy Miller.

New York could target a few different players. A young, yet difficult to acquire option would be Billel Omrani from Marseille. The 21-year old only has 4 appearances this season for the French side. He is a taller option at six foot flat making him an asset on crosses into the box and set pieces. He could be a good compliment to Wright-Phillips and a player for New York to keep around for a while. Another more feasible option would be attempting pry Anthony Stokes from Celtic. Stokes has been a great scorer and set up man at the forward position. He will likely not be too keen to leave the Scottish side he has played for since 2010, but the 26 year could be a very good fit next to Wright-Phillips in the Red Bulls attack. Can’t overlook as well his experience playing for the Republic of Ireland. International caps are very valuable, no matter who they are for.

On defense, the Red Bulls would be smart to target Tommy Smith from the English Championship team Ipswich town. The 24-year old is an international player for New Zealand and has the versatility to play left or center back. Another potential pickup would be 28-year old Danny Simpson from Leicester City in the Premier League. Simpson was part of the Manchester United youth academy as a teenager and the 28-year old would bring lots of experience to New York with his 107 total Premier League appearances.

The season is still roughly 6 weeks away so Marsch will have plenty of time to make some moves to solidify his roster. The Red Bulls are in a position where they could leave one of the DP slots open as well in hopes of landing a player in the summer transfer window. Either way this team is still far from a completed product. Keep an eye out for more new faces to make their way to New York in the coming months.

Henry’s exit full of question marks as to what he does next, none about his legacy

When the New York Red Bulls walked off the field last week, following a defeat to rival New England, there was disappointment surrounding the team for sure but there was something else as well. The team had come up short in their quest for the MLS cup but one player may have also reached the end of career. Red Bulls’ captain Thierry Henry announced days later that he would not be returning to New York the following season. The ensuing rumors have been that he could return to his original club, Arsenal, where Henry was once a star. In what capacity he would return is unclear though. He would definitely be welcomed back to the English Premier League club, but there is speculation it could be as the Gunners manager rather than as a player.

While no one is quite sure what will happen with Henry, there is no doubting that he is a legendary player who still has the capability of competing. He has shown his ability to be a great player in both the MLS and the EPL. Just this past year, the former French international tied the Red Bulls’ single season record for assists. On top of that, Henry performed well when it mattered this year as he set up or scored the game-winning goal in seven of New York’s thirteen wins this season. Then in the postseason set up five more goals in as many games, the best mark of any MLS player in the 2014 playoffs. Clearly, the man they call “Titi” still has some fight in him.

Deciding where he sits as far as all-time greats, Henry’s resume speaks for itself. He cracked the top-50 list for career goal scorers in MLS history. There are only two players on higher up on the list have played fewer games. Those record-tying 14 assists he chalked up this season vaulted him into the top-50 for assists as well. As for his time with the Gunners, Henry still ranks fourth (Wayne Rooney just recently passed him for third) in Premier League history with 175 goals. That number is the most goals scored all time by a player for one club and tops in Arsenal’s 128-year history. Henry also ranks sixth all-time for assists with eighty in his eight-year career at Emirates Field, also an Arsenal record.

Internationally, Henry was a menace scoring the most goals in French football history (51). He was also part of the 1998 World Cup champion team as their highest scorer. His run continued to his inclusion on the 2000 European Championship team. Then, in 2001 and 2003, he was a mainstay for France’s Confederation Cup victories. In 2003 especially, Henry dominated the competition, winning both the Golden Boot for best player and Golden Shoe for top goal scorer. He was a star in France’s run to the finals of the 2006 World Cup, where they eventually lost to Italy on penalties. Through and through, Henry has been a class act who gives goal keepers trouble either setting up goals or scoring them himself.

There is only one player who sits higher than Henry on both lists (Rooney) in EPL history, and the Manchester United man is often considered an all-time great so I think it is only fair to put Henry in the same category. I still think he can compete in the Premier League, not at the same level he once did, but as a solid option at forward. So whatever happens to the now former Red Bull, he will be able to contribute at a high level. He is certainly one of the top strikers to ever play in the Premier League and probably one of the best international attackers the world has ever seen. His soccer IQ will let him be a contributor, either as a player, manager or some combination of the two, for many years to come.