For heralded import Juan Pablo Angel, his debut with the New York Red Bulls did not go quite as expected.
Playing before a sparse crowd that looked more like an audience for a closed-door scrimmage, the Colombian international and former Aston Villa striker had a quiet day on the field. In his first MLS regular season match, Angel looked out of sorts with his new teammates and appeared tentative at times during his acclimation to a new team and new style of play.
Without Claudio Reyna, the anemic Red Bull midfield labored to put Angel in dangerous positions, and often failed to do so. In lieu of Reyna's calming influence, New York failed to control the flow of midfield in an effective manner, despite holding the edge in possession and most offensive categories. Angel, who scored 62 goals for Villa over seven years with the club, registered just one shot on goal (in the 48th minute) and was rarely given space to maneuver when the ball did come his way.
Terming the team's performance versus Colorado "horrible," Red Bull coach Bruce Arena commented that he didn't think that Angel was "real good; [but] he didn't get the kind of service he wanted."
It was a point that the marquee signing agreed with. "We should have done better," said Angel. "We do have a great bunch of players here, but we need to get better for next week."
For much of the match, the Red Bulls played down the right side to Dane Richards, trying to spring the right-footed rookie speedster down the flank and behind the Colorado back line. While this achieved some limited success, the rest of the Red Bulls offensive scheme was limited to aimless long balls being pumped into the Colorado defensive half. It didn't help that the usually steady Dave van den Bergh was out of sorts on the left flank and provided limited service to Angel up top.
It was a perplexing gameplan that failed to utilize Angel effectively. The scheme apparently was to utilize the Colombian as a target forward, but the physical play of the Colorado back line coupled with the poor passing of the Red Bulls neutralized Angel. Arena termed the first half as "lacking effort" before adding that while the second half saw an improvement in this regard, New York was poor technically in the final 45 minutes.
Despite the rough start, Angel's teammates were pleased to be playing alongside the renowned striker. Despite registering two goals and two assists in the first five games of the season, U.S. U-17 international Jozy Altidore was relegated to the bench to make room for Angel in the starting eleven. Altidore, who replaced Carlos Mendes in the 77th minute, remained unfazed by his demotion. "I was actually dying to get in there and play with him," said Altidore. "It was great on one hand, but at the same time, the result was disappointing. Hopefully, we can learn from this."
Many of the 7,802 who did show up for the contest were sporting Colombian national team jerseys and the country's flag was frequent throughout the stadium. Despite the move from the high-profile English Premiership, Angel remains upbeat about the Red Bulls. "Obviously, it was Mother's Day," Angel said. "But I think if we play well, then we'll give people a reason to come out."
Kristian R. Dyer covers U.S. Soccer and MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He appears regularly in the New York City newspaper Metro. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com