Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Barcelonas are good at the footballs

While I wasn't able to get my own pictures due to the fact that I was covering the event for two different outlets, I did manage to get more than enough words.

It was a surreal experience dipping into the concrete bowels of the Meadowlands, getting my computer scanned, and then heading up into the hushed corridors of the press box, where some journalists spent more time refreshing the Mets score on their laptops than watching the masterclass unfold beneath them on the crude patchwork turf.

It was a neat reminder of what soccer is fighting with for attention in this country; at least the product on the field was good, wasn't it?

It took the Blaugrana just 24 minutes to canter out to a 3-0 lead, and if it weren't for some schoolyard finishing, they could have gone into halftime with 3 or 4 more. In short, Barcelona were breathtaking, a refreshing contrast to the insipid performances by Everton and West Ham in their own recent US excursions with the new season approaching.

Guardiola put close to a full-strength XI out in the first half, and they ran roughshod over the Red Bulls; Puyol and co were defending on the halfway line as Angel kept getting caught offside with the long ball, and when Barca had the ball, they constantly threatened. Hleb (I hear some UFers booing) was a persistent menace on the right side and worked well with the attack-minded Daniel Alves.

Xavi and Iniesta controlled the midfield with crisp, incisive passing, including Iniesta's perfectly-weighted through ball splitting the defense to give Eto'o the easiest of finishes.

Quick summary of goals:

Barca 1-0 RBNY (Xavi 17") - Alves whipped a cross in from the right, and Xavi met it with a diving header unmarked at the edge of the 6-yard box. Goldthwaite and Parke left him all alone to power it into the top-left corner.

Barca 2-0 RBNY {Eto'o 18") - RBNY lose possession immediately from the restart, Iniesta gathers the ball, advances 10 yards untouched, and threads the ball between Mendes and Parke for Eto'o, who slots it under Conway from the edge of the box.

Barca 3-0 RBNY (Marquez 24") - Short corner on the left from Xavi to Iniesta, and his pacey cross was flicked on by Marquez through Conway's hands. No time to react to the change in direction.

Barca 3-1 RBNY (Stammler 30") - An alarming blunder from Valdes as he let Dave van den Bergh's speculative cross from the left splutter through his hands, giving Stammler the simple tap-in.

Barca 4-1 RBNY (Eto'o 43") - Best goal of the match. Hleb trickery on the right, cuts inside and breezes by two defenders, threads it to Eto'o near the penalty spot. His first touch beats his marker, and with his second, he slides it under the advancing Conway.


Barca 4-2 RBNY (Rojas 60") - Another Valdes mistake! Of course he won't be castigated too heavily for it now, but if he's pulling these at the Bernabeu in March, it'll be an entirely different story. A deep, low cross from Parke on the right side skids under his dive, giving Rojas an empty net to drive the ball home.

Barca 5-2 RBNY (Suarez 80") - Puyol, now playing on the wing of all places, pulls a nifty move down the right to feed Suarez for a clinical finish.

Barca 6-2 RBNY (Pedro 85") - Suarez turned provider, beating his man for pace down the right side and cutting the ball back to Pedro on the penalty spot, who curled it inside the right post.

The second half provided a gentler counterpoint to the first as Guardiola made six changes, deputizing all his field marshals with their younger, sprightlier understudies, but the Blaugrana still bossed the tempo of the game even with so many adjustments. Bojan showed flashes of his promise, and Toure Yaya proved more than able in handling the controlling midfield duties. The late Barca goals were more a product of conditioning than inventiveness as the tired Red Bulls team struggled to finish out the game.

The crowd was just a drum-head shy of 40,000 and dominated by Barca fans, and a random count of one corner yielded neutral fans (yes, saw some Chelsea and LFC Torres shirts amid the crowd) than even the Red Bulls faithful. The mind boggles as to why there weren't more! The weather was perfect, and one of the world's best clubs was in town!

Once the whistle mercifully brought the match to a close, we filtered back downstairs into the cavernous corridors at field level and joined in the circus for a while. John Harkes took time away from the air-conditioned microphone room to engage in conversation with cougar-esque groupies, and of course, the obligatory Claudio Reyna sighting just off to the side from the press line. He and Steve Nash were deep in conversation, and it had me wondering: if Nash does put a good chunk of money into MLS somewhere along the line, do you think Reyna will find himself with a swanky job in Nash's organization? It's hard to envision Claudio disappearing from the New York scene, but then again, his retirement wasn't exactly full of happiness and sunshine, was it?

And then, perhaps the most surreal sight of all; Xavi, the tiny Eto'o, and Iniesta, all quickly-showered and anxious to get back on the bus, being frisked and scanned with those metal detector batons that infringe upon you at airports. Even someone's elderly mother was briefly searched and her ID scrutinized as Barcelona tried gamely to head back to the hotel.

I couldn't figure out how this worked: was this the Meadowlands security making sure they didn't steal any memorabilia, or was this Barca security making sure no superfans were able to sneak onto their comfortable coach?

It was a jarring end to the night, but one that made perfect sense. In a way, it was small revenge for the frisking they'd inflicted on the Red Bulls all evening. From there the line for interviews was ponderous and slow, and with all the players and coaches releasing cliches into the night air, it was time to exit.


Keith said...

The pitch was in even worse shape than normal due to the 3 Springsteen shows (2 of which I attended- Nils Lofgren+Jazzmaster+somersault= freaking amazing solo) the week prior. But Barca soldiered on.

Ian said...

This city deserves a better MLS franchise than the Red Bulls. Bring on the NY MetsCosmos!

Andrew said...

Barca looked REAL good; balanced attacking, strong possession, a certain joie de vivre in their overall play.

Then I remembered they were playing RBNY.

The NY Kid said...

No mention of Titi = EPIC FAIL!

Lingering Bursitis said...

NY Kid: I'd mention Titi if there was something worth mentioning. Had some shots of note, nothing too menacing, found the side-netting a couple of times. Last night it was the Eto'o Show, and Titi was merely his Paul Shaffer

Keith said...

The most notable thing Titi did was exchange shirts with Juan Pablo Angel, who was giving Henry a sales pitch on either Giants Stadium/Red Bull Parkinglotthat'snevergonnabeastadium or Villa Park.

I'm hoping the latter

The NY Kid said...

Titi scored dammit! That offsides call was pure shenanigans!

Lingering Bursitis said...

The fact that he earnestly believed he was onside was the real shenanigan of that situation.

The NY Kid said...

When was the last time someone admitted they were offsides?

Lingering Bursitis said...

Angel was caught offsides so frequently in the 1st half, after a while he quit protesting altogether.

Also, I bet Inzaghi's been honest on a few occasions considering his prolific offsides skills

Keith said...

He's Juan Pablo Angel; the only person who gets caught offside more is Milan Baros