Fabi could have taken the ball home and he probably still would have scored against New York, my clear choice for man of the match for his work on both sides of the ball.
So a couple of things really stuck out to me tonight at Rio Tinto Stadium, first the vibe when the stands are full of people early is simply amazing and I hope RSL fans will make a point to show up early all season. It clearly had a positive impact on our players while they were warming up for the match.
On the pitch, I was a bit confused by New York, going with a 4-5-1 was really admitting that they weren't in this match for the win, but rather hoping they could slow down RSL's offense and maybe capitalize on a mistake to get a goal of their own. Last week they looked dangerous with Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry on the pitch together and I thought for sure they would start both of the, but Hans Backe clearly was worried about RSL getting off to a quick start. New York seem confused what to do early in the match, they would make one pass and then try a long ball over the top, or make one pass and then turn the ball over. They did play a very high line against RSL which worked for extended periods of time because RSL kept trying to work on their possession more than playing over that high line and letting Fabian Espindola or Paulo Jr. run onto the ball.
It was funny that our goal was when Paulo Jr. took advantage of just that and played a ball for an onrushing Fabian Espindola who had no problem giving RSL the 1-0 lead. I thought it was funny that Shep Messing mentioned that Hans Backe things Fabi is one of the most under-rated players in MLS. I loved that Fabi paid honor to his wife and soon expected son, family both on and off the pitch are clearly important to him.
more thoughts after the jump:
So let's start with Nick Rimando, again he was huge for RSL with 4 saves tonight and a couple of them could see him in the running for Save of the Week again. Even Shep Messing (color guy for MSG's Red Bull coverage) loves Nick Rimando, who tonight may have looked like a human highlighter with his DayGlo yellow, but he played like an eraser who removed opposing goals from the scoreboard.
The defense was big tonight, RSL was going to rest Tony Beltran, but Terukazu Tanaka was out with a high fever and flu, so Tony stepped up and had a great night after a rough start. When I watch Tony do his work against guys like TH14 and Kenny Cooper it makes me so proud of him and I have to believe that at some point we need to see him with the USMNT. Chris Schuler was simply a workhorse, I remember when drafted that someone said he was a mini-Olave, well I think that is wrong Chris is his own man and has quickly become a guy that RSL knows they can go to whenever needed. Jamison Olave is simply Olave, there is not much more you need to say and if you asked Kenny Cooper I am sure he would let you know that "the Verb" is simply one of the best in MLS. Then there is Chris Wingert, and once again he was simply solid from start to finish and allowed RSL an outlet on offense and was able to be a force on defense.
The midfield had their hands full as New York played 5 guys to try to counter the potent attack of the RSL midfield, and they did a good job of trying to disrupt what RSL likes to do. It showed in the fact that New York controlled most of the possession, Luis Gil doesn't play like a 18 year old kid and was very impressive tonight given the work he was being asked to do against a 5 man NYRB midfield. If you want to see the future of the USMNT, you only need to look at Luis Gil, he is that good. In his second match in MLS, Sebastian Velasquez got to play against TH14, not a bad follow up to his battle with Landon Donovan last week, while you can tell that he is still adjusting to a new team, he grows with confidence as the match goes along. Ned Grabavoy was all over the place and on both sides of the ball was dangerous, it won't be long before Ned finds the back of the net. What can you say about Kyle Beckerman, that hasn't already been said? He was simply the force in the midfield that was needed, he also has the vision to be a guy who can start the offensive effort, it is clear why Jurgen has taken a liking to him. I also loved that we were able to get Javier Morales in for some minutes again this week, he looked even sharper than he did last week, and I can't wait until he is ready to go a full 90 minutes.
Up top Paulo Jr, is simply unfortunate to not have a goal yet, he is doing all the right things and causing trouble for defenders by applying pressure no matter where the ball is, he also showed some great work coming back to help the defensive effort when needed. I have a feeling when he starts finding the back of the net, that opposing teams are going to really be caught on their heels. Then there is Fabian Espindola, who scored another goal against New York (his 6th in his last 6 matches against them) and while his goal was impressive, I think for me it is when you see Fabi take a corner kick that is cleared and New York counters and Thierry Henry is making a beeline for the RSL goal, when from out of nowhere Fabian Espindola comes from behind and pushes the ball out for a corner kick. Fabi was 5 yards behind Henry at the top of the 18 but found a way to catch him, it was the play of the match for me, and Fabi is my clear Man of the Match. Alvaro Saborio came on for some minutes again tonight and he looked dangerous with his positioning and his pressure on the keeper and defense, it was hard for him to do much as RSL was spending more time defending a desperate New York attack.
It was a great night on and off the pitch for RSL, a fun night for fans and a night where RSL reminded the rest of MLS that they are ready for the 2012 season. It wasn't as pretty as we have seen RSL play but it just reminds us the best is yet to come.
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