Juan Carlos Osorio, coach of the New York Red Bulls, is a lucky, lucky man. This past Saturday, his side pulled off one of the greatest upsets in MLS playoff history, defeating the two-time defending champions Houston Dynamo 3-0 at Robertson Stadium in Houston.
Osorio fielded an unchanged side from the first leg, which ended 1-1, and was rewarded when Dane Richards broke through the Houston defense against the run of play in the 28th minute and finished in the top corner. Minutes later, Houston were shocked as defender Ricardo Clark was deemed to have handled the ball in the box. Juan Pablo Angel stepped up, placed the ball past keeper Pat Onstad, and the result was sealed. Despite heavy second half pressure from the Dynamo, John Wolyniec scored from close range in the 80th minute to ensure the Red Bulls would progress.
For the much maligned Red Bulls franchise, this victory signaled a monumental breakthrough: in their twelve year history, this is only the second time the Red Bulls have progressed to a Conference finals. NYRB are the only remaining original franchise in MLS who have not won the MLS Cup.
So could this finally be the year for the Red Bulls? Despite this remarkable victory, I still think the Red Bulls do not have what it takes to win an MLS Cup.
While Real Salt Lake awaits in the Conference final, the real test, if the Red Bulls progress, will be Chicago, who walked over the Bulls 5-2 in a decisive match earlier this season, or Columbus, the winner of the Supporter’s Shield. Osorio, while a clever man, has clearly had luck on his side during the end of the campaign and the playoffs, but who knows when his luck will run out.
In the first place, the Bulls were fortunate to sneak into the playoffs: the 5-2 drubbing at Chicago looked to have condemned NYRB to an early exit, but D.C. United, with their fate in their own hands, lost their last fixture, propelling the Red Bulls into the playoffs. During the playoffs, Osorio has kept expensive Venezuelan playmaker Jorge Rojas on the bench, instead favoring veteran forward John Wolyniec or rookie Sinisa Ubiparipovic.
At times this year, despite his passionate coaching, his decision making has seemed less than perfect: Osorio, overlooking the US Open Cup, watched the Bulls lose to Second Division USL side Crystal Palace Baltimore. One of his early season signings, Oscar Echeverry, was a travesty in the few games he started. What’s more, in the one live game I saw, against Toronto FC on October 4th, Osorio played a 4-5-1 formation at home. The team, slow and cumbersome on the attack, not surprisingly lost 3-1.
Also, Osorio has adopted a rotation policy of sorts, Ã la Rafa Benitez. Osorio says of the policy, “There are no automatic choices in this team. Probably there is one or two. . . .. For the time being, my message for everybody is that you need to earn your spot. They also know that I am not afraid to play the guys who I think deserved the chance.” While this is a noble and commendable endeavor, it is not the right policy to adopt for a team hoping to make a deep run into the playoffs. Using untested or marginal players that have simply performed well in the past week of training is a recipe for disaster. At a time like this, everyone expects, and needs continuity for success.
As a Red Bulls fan, I fear that Saturday’s victory may only encourage Osorio to continue his policies that have been ineffective for most of the campaign. After the victory, Osorio said, “Rotating the team is part of my thing that I believe in. Basically what happened on Saturday, it paid off for us.” A 1-1 draw in a game that the team threw away due to poor late-game defending? Hardly a success in my opinion. Osorio needs to reconnect with reality and listen to what the supporters have been telling him the entire season: play the best players who constantly perform week in and week out. Only then can Osorio rely on more than just luck to capture the MLS Cup.