TOKYO (AP) – Lost amid the whirlwind of MLS trades last week was a transaction that could arguably become the biggest signing of the MLS season: the New York Red Bulls acquisition of German goalkeeper Frank Rost.
Already boasting a star-studded lineup and the highest-scoring attack in the league, the Red Bulls went out and signed the highly-regarded Rost to a Designated Player contract, immediately solving the biggest issue on the team's roster. Now, with a star goalkeeper in place, one thing becomes very clear.
There are no more excuses in New York.
The Red Bulls have been coasting along this season, underachieving even before mass Gold Cup absences and the rash of goalkeeping blunders turned the summer into a nightmare and pushed the club even harder to address a clear need. In Rost, the Red Bulls add a player capable of being the best goalkeeper in the league, but more importantly, a player who immediately addresses the team's most glaring need.
Will it be enough? We saw Rost make his debut on Saturday, and while he actually wound up not having to make a single save in his first MLS match, the Red Bulls still couldn't win. Instead, a myriad of misses, squandered chances and wasted possession produced another tie, dropping the Red Bulls to 2-3-9 (W-L-T) in their past 14 matches, a mediocre run only salvaged at this point by a good 4-1-2 start to the season.
The pieces are in place, though. Once Rafa Marquez returns from his ankle injury, and once Luke Rodgers is back to fully fit, the Red Bulls will have no excuses for not surpassing the Philadelphia Union, a team that has produced better results with a fraction of New York's salary.
What the Union do have (that the Red Bulls have yet to show) is team chemistry and an ability to play well consistently. Where Peter Nowak has rebuilt his team to run like a machine, the current Red Bulls have the feel of a pile of high-priced parts that has yet to show it can produce. It will be up to head coach Hans Backe to get those parts working well together in time for the most expensive team in MLS to win some silverware this year.
Unfortunately for New York, the Red Bulls threw away a perfect opportunity for a trophy last week when they trotted out a full-blown reserve team for their US Open Cup quarterfinal against the Chicago Fire. Instead of fielding a strong team to knock off a beatable Fire side, the Red Bulls left all their starters (and head coach Hans Backe) home and flew in a reserve team the day of the game. An inevitable 5-0 thrashing ensued.
New York's embarrassing handling of its U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal place was made more shameful by the fact that all six other MLS teams remaining in the competition fielded lineups with more starters than reserves. If that weren't enough, a win against Chicago would have given the Red Bulls a semifinal meeting against the Richmond Kickers of the USL-Pro League - American Soccer's third division.
Now, instead of being two steps away from a US Open Cup championship (which would have been the team's first championship of any kind) and the CONCACAF Champions League berth that goes with it, the Red Bulls are left with just one trophy to play for: the 2011 MLS Cup.
The Red Bulls have the team to win it. With the best trio of forwards in the league, a potent midfield and a defense that could be the stingiest in MLS, New York is full of weapons with no excuses left to make. Anything short of a championship and it won't just be the players changing in the off-season. It will be the bosses in the shiny suits as well.
Player of the Week
Fredy Montero. The Seattle Sounders striker wins the award for a second straight week after his goal and assist in Seattle's 4-3 win against Colorado. His brave header for a goal and beautiful assist on the eventual game-winning goal sealed the three points and pushed the Sounders to nine games unbeaten (6-0-3).
Rookie of the Week
DC United defender Perry Kitchen grabbed the honors a week after teammate Ethan White was tabbed. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 MLS Draft looked completely comfortable at his converted right back spot, helping to neutralize FC Dallas star Brek Shea in a 0-0 tie on Saturday.
Team of the Week
The Seattle Sounders played some seriously beautiful soccer on Saturday, and while the Philadelphia Union had a case for this week's honor for their thrashing of New England, seeing Seattle dismantle a good Rapids defense was a thing of beauty. It also makes you wonder just how good the Sounders could be if they played on grass all the time (CenturyLink Field had grass laid down for Wednesday's Seattle-Manchester United friendly).