Back in 1995, Manchester United had a bumper crop of young prospects breakthrough into the first team. They’re all household names now, the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and some guy named David Beckham. But back in ’95, they were just fresh-faced kids, playing at one of the major clubs in the world.
“You’ll win nothing with kids,” said former Liverpool defender and BBC match pundit — analyst to us Americans — Alan Hansen said after the Red Devils lost 3-1 on opening day to Aston Villa. The pressure was on United manager Sir Alex Ferguson; how could he entrust the fortunes of a major power to a bunch of youngsters?
The result that season: Beckham, Scholes and Giggs became the backbone of United’s double-winning side that season and launched a new era in English soccer that saw Man U’s rise as a dominant force in European competition. “Fergie’s Fledglings” took the world by storm and made United a mega club, a team name that is recognized around the world.
To say that the Red Bulls have young players in the class of that wonderful group would be a gross statement. But they’re not chopped liver, either. The likes of Brandon Barklage, Connor Lade, Tyler Ruthven and Ryan Meara have all made a huge impact on a team that desperate needed it. Meara has given New York stability in goal, Barklage looks to have cemented his place as the team’s starting right back and Ruthven and Lade have been key contributors as defenders.
During the Red Bulls’ recent six-match unbeaten run, the foursome excelled in defense, keeping three clean sheets and allowing just four goals. There was chemistry being built by a bunch of kids that were learning on the job.
On Sunday, coach Hans Backe decided to go back to the veterans, with Roy Miller in at left back and Wilman Conde back after injury. The result in Chicago: a 3-1 defeat to the Fire, with the back four exposed.
On one hand, it can be said that the Red Bulls now have the depth that they didn’t have before. If something were to happen to the back four now, the young Bulls can easily be slotted in without any problem. The recent trade for left back/center back Heath Pearce was an excellent acquisition and provides New York with good options in defense.
But there’s something to be said about keeping a consistency in defense. A defensive unit works best when it’s unchanged and organized, like a finely tuned band in song with one another. With Conde out of Wednesday’s match against the Whitecaps, it would be nice to see the kids back in the fire and in the starting lineup, especially with a busy schedule of three matches in a week.
It’s been proven before. You can win something with kids, Mr. Hansen.
EURO 2012 FEVER
International tournaments can sometimes be hit or miss. The recent World Cup in South Africa was notoriously turgid in games.
You can’t say that about this year’s European championships. Goals galore and dramatics on — and off — the pitch, Euro 2012 has been a standout tournament.
The emphasis on attacking play – minus a few exceptions such as the Irish and Greeks – has been a joy to watch and the fact that there hasn’t been a nil-nil draw shows that teams are looking to put the ball in the back of the net.
But what has especially been encouraging is the response stateside and in the city as well. Ratings are at an all-time for the Euros and most pubs and bars in the city are jam-packed with people in the middle of the day (try Legends on W. 33rd street or Smithfield on W. 28 street)
For soccer fans, the hope is that the momentum of the Euros can be transferred to MLS and people watching America’s version of the beautiful game. There’s a base of footie fanatics in this country and it continues to grow at a gradual pace. Long may it continue.