Heath Pearce

One easy New York Red Bulls fix: left back

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Interesting thing about the Red Bulls as we draw a tighter circle around the cascade of folly and error that turned a potential road win – and what a rather fashionable one it would have been, at the home of the current Supporters Shield holders – into a loss that remains the talk of Major League Soccer this morning:

Sunday’s chief culprit mans a position where the Red Bulls have option aplenty.

No, left back Roy Miller was not solely responsible for the 10 minutes of mayhem that saw San Jose score twice. (Very “San Jose 2K12” by the way; we’ll get to the Earthquakes and what all this means for them later …)

Obviously, there is blame to go around. Goalkeeper Luis Robles could have possible done better on the Earthquakes’ 83rd minute equalizer. And the flagging possession out of the back that really got this kettle boiling … well, that’s on pretty much everyone.

(MORE: As problems arise, we’ll learn more about Mike Petke)

But left back is a relatively easy fix. And who doesn’t love an easy fix?

That’s because Connor Lade is available. You might remember him as the talented, energetic presence Thierry Henry spoke so highly about last year. Or, you might remember Lade (pictured) as the young man called into Jurgen Klinsmann’s January camp.

If Lade doesn’t reveal himself as the answer, I remain convinced that Heath Pearce will immediately be a Top Five left back in Major League Soccer – just as soon as soon as some manager moves him back to the spot where the 28-year-old veteran has made 35 U.S. national team appearances.

That would mean putting Markus Holgersson alongside Jamison Olave in the middle of the back line; Holgersson is a veteran, so that gets a little more experience on the field, too.

(MORE: Highlights as the Red Bulls fall apart late against San Jose)

Major League Soccer positional Top Tens: CENTER BACKS

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The top thee center backs in Major League Soccer are fairly predictable and fairly interchangeable in terms of Nos. 1, 2 or 3.

After that? It’s a lot tougher to cobble together a real ordering, with about 10-15 above-average MLS center backs who could probably fill any of the next seven spots on our Top Ten.

(MORE: entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

And what to do about tandems that work in perfect balance, forming a central duo that’s more than sum of its skillful parts? Chicago is the perfect example, with veteran Arne Friedrich supplying the veteran know-how while MLS 2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry holds the role of talented understudy.

Disclaimers aside, here’s how we see Major League Soccer’s Top 10 in center backs:

1. San Jose’s Victor Bernardez (pictured)

2. LA Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez >

At 24 years old, the two-time MLS Cup winner is about to launch his fifth professional season. As he is now (apparently) the first choice U.S. center back, Gonzalez’s stock remains on the rise. He still has room to grow – and think about that for a second.

3. Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler >

Not blessed with Gonzalez’s size, the SKC man does it with expert positioning and outstanding technique, with just the right amount of applied tenacity. Like Gonzalez, he impressed U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann in the extended January national team camp.

4. New York Red Bulls’ Jamison Olave >

Staying healthy is the trick for Olave, who had five outstanding seasons at Real Salt Lake. With speed that belies his big frame, the Colombian defender cleaned up more messes than a lot of people might realize in his days at Rio Tinto.

5. Vancouver Whitecaps’ Jay DeMerit

6. FC Dallas’ George John

7. Sporting Kansas City’s Aurelien Collin

8. Colorado Rapids’ Jeff Parke > 

In Seattle, Parke had the league’s best midfield protector in Osvaldo Alonso. No reason to think he can’t do the job in Philadelphia, but that seems worthy of pointing out, at least.  Parke is certainly thrilled to be in Philly, near where he grew up.

9. Chicago Fire’s Arne Freidrich

10. New York Red Bulls’ Heath Pearce >

He’s a difficult one to slot, because he would probably be one of the league’s top left backs … except that Red Bulls manager Mike Petke is loaded at the spot and probably needs Pearce to play centrally.

The tales are tumbling out of Red Bull Arena now

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At some point last year a few soccer journos were sitting around, talking over a soda pop or two. It’s what we do best; you gotta play to your strengths.

The subject wheel finally landed on the New York Red Bulls and someone (sorry I can’t remember who … proper credit and all) said, “Oh, the stories are there, and they’ll all start coming out soon enough.”

That day has apparently arrived.

During Red Bulls media day Monday in Harrison, former manager Hans Backe and (more than likely) Rafa Marquez became the favorite punching bags as guys like Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill (pictured) and Heath Pearce began pulling back the curtain on why such a fabulously talented team never found its potential, hovering habitually between “average” and “just above average.”

Backe was, let’s say, a “less respected” figure inside the locker room. (In fairness, it is impossible to know who was making some of the high-profile decisions, Backe or someone above him.)

Said defender Heath Pearce, who was advocating new manager Mike Petke, but saying a lot in his comparison:

If guys can jog around training and get away with it, then what’s going to happen in the games where you need guys in the 90th minute to make plays? From the ground level up, accountability is going to be a major factor for us. Them enabling us to hold each other to that level, with (the coaching staff’s) support, is going to be a big thing for us.”

Advocacy for Petke was a big theme. The players love his dedication the job and the organization. Again, you wonder is that’s more about Petke or more about the previous regime?

And then this: Credit to Cahill, who hasn’t been in the United States for a full year, for already figuring out what inexplicably escapes so very many men in MLS corner offices: that American coaches have a better opportunity to grasp the peculiarities and vagaries unique to MLS. I’ve been banging that drum for years.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what happened last season. It seemed very open and messy. There was no stability, whereas now there’s stability. There’s Petke.”

Said Cahill of the search that wandered first in Europe – and where serendipity may have ultimately intervened, saving the Red Bulls from themselves when the chosen coaching accent couldn’t come to terms or couldn’t get a visa or whatever:

I just kept hearing names about European coaches. It’s hard to bring in European coaches that understand the league and the structure … what’s going to be best to build a team.”

There’s even more in the piece from Brian Straus linked above, including some shots at Dwayne De Rosario, who was even more to the point in assessing his brief run at Red Bull Arena.

Thoughts on Heath Pearce and latest Red Bulls preseason lineup

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After a while, I quit beating the drum for Heath Pearce as a left back.

He was just fine as a center back, but I always wondered why such a good, technical defender with a swell left foot would be “wasted” in the middle.

Again, nothing wrong with Pearce stationed centrally, except that I can find 15-20 MLS center backs with roughly the same ability as a center back. That’s just not the case with left backs in MLS, a position with far less league-wide depth.

Pearce in the middle? He’s in a clump of similar center backs.

Pearce on the left? He’s probably No. 1 in Major League Soccer.

Yes, San Jose’s Justin Morrow or Sporting Kansas City’s Seth Sinovic might have something to say about it. The LA Galaxy’s Todd Dunivant is as reliable as they come, although probably not the attacker that Pearce can be. And at 32, he’s four year’s older than Pearce. But let’s not bog down here.

Still, for reasons that had to do with personnel on hand and … well, who knows why else, Pearce has played in the middle more than out left for Chivas USA and New York (his current address) over the last two years.

So I was interested to see that Pearce was, in fact, on the left in the Red Bulls’ come-from-behind win yesterday, 3-2, over Swedish First Division side Malmo at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In the middle: Markus Holgersson and Jamison Olave. With Kosuke Kimura on the right, that looks like a fairly strong back line, and one that add pressure up the wings on the attack.

Thierry Henry got his first preseason goal for the Red Bulls.

Available United States left back options for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier?

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Heath Pearce and Zach Loyd have both started matches at left back for the United States in 2012, so they are the most likely, 11th-hour call-ups who could provide additional cover at left back should U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann go that direction.

(MORE: Fabian Johnson out for Tuesday’s contest)

Pearce (pictured), a longtime outside back who plays centrally for the Red Bulls, manned the left side as the United States opened its first full year under Klinsmann with a 1-0 win over Venezuela at the Home Depot Center earlier this year.

He graded out an “just OK” by most accounts, but his 72nd-minute replacement was afforded better marks for adding some peppiness to the attack along the American left side. FC Dallas’ Zach Loyd apparently impressed Klinsmann enough, too.

Loyd started the subsequent contest a few nights later down in Panama, but an injury late in the first half of the 1-0 win removed the FC Dallas man from that one.

Either man is presumably available.

More likely is that Klinsmann just picks from the players who flew into Kansas City from Antigua on Saturday. (They have one practice today, a public workout that went on Sunday morning.)

Given that the United States needs only a draw, Klinsmann might be inclined to go slightly more defensive anyway. That means Carlos Bocanegra, the captain and central defensive veteran who doesn’t offer much push up the left side, but does bring that veteran wisdom, calm and reassuring experience.

(MORE: What must happen on Tuesday; the World Cup qualifying scenarios)

Of course, if Klinsmann wants to add pressure into higher areas – and that is, after all, among the primary tenets of the style he is attempting to implement – he needs more speed and attacking ability. That could mean a make-shift left back gambit, something like what we saw in June when Jose Torres surprisingly manned the position in a home contest against Antigua.

Sacha Kljestan, maybe? Danny Williams, anyone?

Given Klinsmann and his propensity for the unexpected, would anything really surprise any of us?

(UPDATE, 6:45 p.m. ET Sunday: Michael Parkhurst apparently worked out at left back Sunday, so he could be an option, too.)