Unconvincing Red Bulls tie with Colorado

The Red Bulls hosted Colardo in the home opener of the 2014 MLS season at the Red Bulls Arena in Harrison, NJ on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

The Red Bulls hosted Colorado in the home opener of the 2014 MLS season at the Red Bulls Arena in Harrison, NJ on Saturday, March 15, 2014.
© Samindra Kunti

Soccer fans always look forward to the home opener of the season.  They get twitchy in the off- season; They need soccer to sustain themselves. By the time the home opener arrives, they crave the game.

On Saturday afternoon,  New York fans welcomed back soccer as the Red Bulls took on the Colorado Rapids at Red Bull Arena in Harrison. Blue skies and mild temperatures provided an excellent setting for an afternoon of soccer in the Big Apple.

The fans in the South Ward attempted to make the game a fest. They sang and danced throughout the game, but they had been warned that the Red Bulls might not whizz their way past the Rapids. Last week Mike Petke’s team slumped to a 4-1 defeat away to Vancouver.

Petke took the blame for the humiliation. His game plan of pairing Tim Cahill and Peguy Luyindula up front completely backfired. His defense was also not without fault. This time Petke went for the orthodox partnership of Thierry Henry, returning from injury, and Bradley Wright-Philipps.

The Red Bulls applied pressure early on; Cahill failed to convert a free header from Henry’s cross. Lloyd Sam’s  pace opened up space on the right, but few crosses turned into real danger.  Gradually the Rapids restored the balance. Deshorn Brown unsettled Armando and Jamison Olave at the heart of the Red Bulls’ defence. Robbles, like so often, produced three excellent saves to keep a clean sheet.

New York stormed out of the locker room and again Cahill had a free header. This time, the ball just sailed over the bar. But it was all a bit lacklustre by the Red Bulls – laborious, but without real direction. Armando and Olave didn’t click, and looked fragile. In the final third the Red Bulls were often at a loss.

In the 57th minute, the captain delivered. Lloyd Sam sent in a delicate cross from the right, Cahill drew two defenders and Henry’s diving header left John Berner, the visiting goalkeeper, with no chance.

But clumsy defending cost the Red Bulls. Olave bumped Vicente Sanchez. The referee pointed, somewhat controversially, to the spot and Sanchez cooly converted the spot-kick to the bottom right corner. The Red Bulls were deflated and only regained their composure in the dying minutes. They heaped on the pressure, but there was to be no grandstand finale, common currency last season.

During midweek, Petke indicated that the loss against Vancouver had been analysed – that all the t’s had been crossed  and the i’s dotted. Not so by Saturday’s evidence. If Petke wants to send the fans home happy, he’ ll have to go back to the drawing board.

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Knicks coast past Bucks for sixth consecutive win

The New York Knicks hosted the Milwaukee Bucks at noon at Madison Square Garden, New York, Saturday, March 15, 2014.  © Samindra Kunti

The New York Knicks hosted the Milwaukee Bucks at noon at Madison Square Garden, New York, Saturday, March 15, 2014.
© Samindra Kunti

Phil Jackson is the new Messiah at Madison Square Garden. That is at least what James Dolan wants him to be, as the Knicks owner finally  realised that his franchise needs a back-breaking personality in its front office if he wants the grand ambitions he harbours  for the Knicks to materialise. Jackson will be presented officially at a press conference on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Knicks, who have a 26-40 record, are still in with a shot at the play-offs. They entered the game against Milwaukee tied with Detroit for the 9th place, 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final play-off spot.

They continued their push to try and rescue their season, steamrollering  the Bucks, 114-94. The Knicks are now on a six game winning streak, their longest in the season.

For Mike Woodson, the win is another straw he can hold onto. The much-maligned coach has faced job insecurity all season long as his Knicks have hovered somewhere between the abysmal and mediocre, but Woodson has always conducted himself with dignity in the face of severe criticism.

When asked what he thought of Phil Jackson, Woodson was diplomatic as ever saying that Jackson is ‘a great basketball mind’ and would be ‘a plus’ for the Knicks. Jackson has been rumoured to eye a more experienced coach for next season.

Ironically, the Knicks have been playing relatively well by their standards. Their last five wins did came against sub 0.500 teams, with the exception of Minnesota. But they recorded 114.2 points on average and shot 50 percent from the field.

The Bucks had a record of 13-52 going into the game. The lone highlight of their season has been the rise of 19-year old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they picked up at a high school in Athens. But the Greek prodigy could not stop the Knicks’ onslaught.

Anthony, yet again, led the Knicks with 24 points; Raymond Felton was positive, both defensively and offensively, and Stoudemire put in a trademark gritty performance. Tim Hardaway is fast becoming a crowd favourite with his dynamic and energetic play. He scored 20 points.

The Knicks demonstrated control throughout the game. The Bucks’ resistance was non-existent.  By halftime the game was no longer a contest. The Knicks scored 60 points, shooting 56.4 percent from the field. They led by 18 points. Woodson decided to rest Anthony Carmelo in the last quarter.

Woodson looked a little more relaxed courtside. At times he even produced a meek smile.

The Knicks still have their backs against the wall with only fifteen games left to salvage their season. The Garden will only host five of those games. If the Knicks can show their mettle in the daunting away trip to the West Coast this week, with tricky games at Phoenix and Golden State, Phil Jackson might well consider to keep Woodson for the next season.

Another routine embarrassment for the Knicks

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Knicks coach Mike Woodson addresses the media after the Knicks’ woeful performance against the Golden State Warriors at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Friday, February 28, 2014.
© Samindra Kunti

The Knicks never cease to amaze this season: while they lost away to Miami Heat by 26 points yesterday, New York slumped to a 126-103 defeat at home to the Golden State Warriors on Friday night as their chances for a play-off berth are fading rapidly.

Worse, even Carmelo Anthony has lost the will to compete. With 23 points he top-scored once more for New York, but for most of the game Melo looked tired and uninspired.  It didn’t help that the Knicks went to bed at 3am after returning from Miami.  With four minutes and 30 seconds left, he threw the towel.

“When we lose games, it’s embarrassing like [Friday night],’’ Anthony said.

The non-contest was over after the first quarter with the Warriors leading, 38-27 –  another sign of how this season is over for the Knicks. Stephen Curry, who scored a dazzling 54 points at the Garden in February, hit 12 points, including two threes.  He’d get a triple double for the visitors, scoring 27 points. The lethargic Knicks defense often left him wide open.

“It was probably the worst of the year, I thought, from a transition standpoint,” Mike Woodson said of his team’s defense. The Knicks’ rearguard looked confused and overmatched. Thompson, part of the ‘splash brothers’, hit five threes, scoring 25 points overall, and O’Neal, 35 and not precisely in his prime, chipped in with 15 points.

At half-time, a shower of boos rained down from the Garden with the Knicks trailing, 73-52.  Threes from Melo, Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith briefly boosted the Knicks, cutting the Warriors’ lead to 17 points. The Knicks outscored the Warriors 28-26 in the third stanza, but it was never going to be a renaissance.

J.R. Smith questioned the Knicks’ ‘heart’ after the game.  “We’re not playing like we can [turn it around],’’ Smith said. “It’s not a mental thing. It’s a heart thing. Letting people score 50 points in the paint over and over again. We’re not going to win games like that. Guys getting open, hitting shots, high-fiving. I’m not into knocking somebody down and hurting somebody but we got to do something.”

The Knicks’ exasperation culminated when Tyson Chandler got ejected with four minutes and 33 seconds left for jawing Marreese Speights repeatedly. In many ways, Chandler’s anger was nothing more than a concession that the Knicks got beaten by a young, fresh-legged, and ultimately, better team.

It was the tale of their season, and while it was torture to watch, the Knicks are now gradually acknowledging that the play-offs are a distant dream.  Trailing the eighth seed by six games, New York can only make it on a technicality.

Slowly attention is turning to next season