Van den Bergh provides the ammo for New York's offense
CARSON, Calif. -- When it comes to reputations, the Dutch are known for two things: playing beautiful soccer and failing to translate that beauty into championships.
"I've heard the same thing about Italy, and nobody takes away the fact that they've won four World Cups," Van den Bergh said. "Italian teams are always ugly teams, but who cares? All you see right now is four World Cups.
"Holland has been to two World Cup finals, has been the best team in two World Cups, but have nothing to show for it," Van den Bergh added. "I'd rather win ugly than lose beautifully."
The Red Bulls have reached the 2008 MLS Cup (versus the Columbus Crew) by playing defensively sound soccer. New York places a heavy emphasis on defending as well as on getting the ball to the dangerous trio of Juan Pablo Angel, Dane Richards and van den Bergh, who has been the team's steadiest player all year and arguably the Red Bulls' most valuable player this season.
"He is a good attack-minded player that can play inside in a three and outside in a four, and I think he has done really well," said New York coach Juan Carlos Osorio. "We can't ignore his contributions, his crossing ability is second to none, and he is a good professional."
|MLS Cup final|
New York vs. Columbus
Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif. 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Providing the Red Bulls with a consistent threat on the left flank and arguably the best service of any left winger in the league, van den Bergh has generated a majority of the Red Bulls' scoring chances. Whether it is his pinpoint crosses or an underrated nose for the goal -- which helped him score seven goals during the regular season and the game-winning goal against Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final last week -- van den Bergh will look to carry over his regular-season and playoff success into the final. A high-profile matchup with Crew defender and U.S. national team veteran Frankie Hejduk awaits.
"He'll run up and down the field for 190 minutes instead of 90. If they don't drag him off the field, I think he'd still be running," van den Bergh said of Hejduk. "He's a great competitor. He's tough, but he's fair."
"It's going to be a good battle," Hejduk said of his matchup with van den Bergh. "You've got two players who like to get up and down. He's an excellent crosser of the ball and has been a big weapon for them.
"He serves a great ball in to a great player in [Juan Pablo] Angel, who can head the ball well and who's good in the box," Hejduk said. "He's definitely a player I need to be tight on and need to be able to defend."
Van den Bergh has enjoyed a renaissance since joining the Red Bulls in a trade from Kansas City before the 2007 season. According to Wizards sources, van den Bergh just didn't fit into the plans for the way they planned to play, so they unloaded him in what was essentially a salary dump. Since making that move, van den Bergh has become one of the league's best wingers and a major locker-room presence, with his well-known sense of humor and easy demeanor providing a dash of cool to a relatively young squad.
Whether that success translates to a third season with the Red Bulls in 2009 remains to be seen. The club has yet to sign him to a new deal, and the 32-year-old is ready to explore other options, though he admits that staying in New York would be his preference.
"I've thought about next year, but it's not up to me," van den Bergh said. "I want to play next year because I still feel like I can offer something to a team. Where I play is up to this team.
"It's up to this team because they hold my rights within the league. They have to decide what they want to offer me, and if they don't want to keep me, decide what they want in a trade."
As far as Osorio is concerned, the Red Bulls plan to bring van den Bergh back in 2009.
"Hopefully, he will be here next season," Osorio said. "I would like to have him back next year."
Contract issues are the last thing on van den Bergh's mind this weekend. He is focused on helping the Red Bulls win their first title in 13 years of existence, while trying to break his own title drought, which has gone on since he won a Dutch title with Ajax in 1996.
"It's basically around the time this league got started, so I've been dry just as long as this franchise has," van den Bergh said. "It's about time. We're both due a title."
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.