New year, same garbage in 2:1 loss to Dallas
March 11, 2012
The 17th season for New Jersey's Major League Soccer franchise started the same way many of the sixteen before have -- in defeat. The final margin covered up how uncompetitive this match was for 80 minutes; a stale attack and awful midfield play conspired to keep Metro off the board until a final series of changes led to a more dangerous attack near the end. To be fair to the forwards and midfielders, the defense was also disappointing throughout, hanging rookie keeper Ryan Meara out to dry in his debut.
With new acquisition Wilman Conde sidelined with an ankle sprain and 2011 Bum of the Year Rafa Marquez finishing the final two games of his three match ban from the playoffs last year, generally incompetent manager "Clever" Hans Backe had a couple tough decisions to make in the starting lineup. Following the preseason trend, Meara made his debut in goal. The backline was as expected, with fullback stalwarts Jan Gunnar Solli and Roy Miller on the outside of center pairing Stephen Keel and S. Markus Holgersson. Fan favorites Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere once again manned the flanks, while Dax McCarty and Teemu Tainio found their usual home between them as dual defensive midfielders. The one surprise was seeing Juan Agudelo, not Kenny Cooper, get the call next to Arsenal legend Thierry Henry up top.
From the start, it looked like the team picked up right where they left off in their record-setting 2011 campaign. Fans who had the stomach to sit through all of last season will recall that the record the team set was for the most draws in a single season -- and that was the form that appeared to carry over.
Dallas scored early, and again as no surprise to fans who watched last year, it came as a result of a terrible clearance in the box. Big Sven Holgersson, the supposed defensive leader of 2011 Allsvenskan champions Helsingborgs, completely botched a routine clearance, allowing the ball to dangerously bounce around in the box. McCarty had a second chance to clear but failed to do so as well, allowing Dallas defender Zach Loyd to fire past the outstretched Meara. Holgersson was awful all day long, appearing no better in his league debut than in his shaky preseason showings.
In the second half, the deficit became two on yet another terrible defensive gaffe. Miller, the steady Costa Rican who is prone to the occasional poor decision, chose to pass backward... right into the path of Dallas forward Blas Perez. The big Panamanian sprung Ricardo Villar past the disorganized Metro defense, and Villar chipped the ball over the onrushing Meara. Meara, who looked solid in his first league action, covered for the defense throughout the game.
There was a glimmer of hope late in the game as Cooper came on for Richards and scored the first goal of his Metro career. Henry, who apparently fancies himself an attacking midfielder at this point in his career, played a perfect ball over the Dallas defense to Cooper, who took a touch and beautifully chipped the ball over Kevin Hartman into the Dallas goal. Is it a surprise that the offense came to life when Henry was allowed to drift back while two other forwards were in the game as well? We think not.
And thus, the little optimism that could be mustered up for a third run with Backe and Erik Soler has largely been dashed. Sure, there appear to be a couple bright spots on the evidence of this one game, Meara and Cooper in particular. There are too many familiar sights from last year's disastrous campaign in this game, however, for there to be much confidence in how this season will unfold.
Lineup: Meara, Miller, Holgersson, Keel, Solli, Tainio, McCarty, Lindpere, Richards, Agudelo, Henry. Subs: Cooper, Palsson, Ballouchy.