Hartnett: Joel Lindpere, Red Bulls’ Engine On And Off The Pitch Demands Accountability From Teammates

‘Running With The Red Bulls’
By Sean Hartnett
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I’ll admit that when Joel Lindpere joined the New York Red Bulls from Norwegian club Tromsø in January 2010, I wasn’t very familiar with his style of play.  Outside of watching Estonia in a couple of Euro 2008 qualifiers against England, I’m certain I hadn’t otherwise been given an opportunity to view the midfielder in a full match.

To most Red Bull supporters, Lindpere was an unknown quantity as he made his name in Estonian and Norwegian football but it didn’t take long for him to endear himself to his new fans.  In the preseason opening of Red Bull Arena, a Red Bull #83 NASCAR was brought out onto the pitch as Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn delivered the match ball during ceremonies before the inaugural match against Brazilian giants Santos FC.

The publicity stunt aside, fans soon saw the real engine on display at Red Bull Arena in the form of Lindpere.  He set the brand new stadium alight in the 11th minute of the friendly by driving a free kick which was blocked by the Santos’ wall but instinctively followed up his own shot with another that bulged the left corner of the net.  Lindpere had made his mark by scoring the first goal in the arena’s history but produced an even more sensational moment a week later against the Chicago Fire.

In what was both the MLS season opener and first official match at Red Bull Arena, the midfielder again stood out and latched onto a headed-down ball with a thunderbolt strike that gave the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead.  Lindpere had given New York the inspiration to cling onto the result for the remaining 50 minutes and start off their 2010 campaign on the right note.  This was just the very beginning of a banner year for the Estonian as he figured greatly in the club’s march to their second Eastern Conference title, was named an MLS All-Star team and voted the 2010 MVP of the Red Bulls.

As the playoffs got underway, New York was drawn against the San Jose Earthquakes and Lindpere shined in the first leg.  He twice threatened the San Jose goal before unleashing a well-placed strike to give the Red Bulls the vital away victory.  As the scene shifted back to Red Bull Arena, the Earthquakes were dominant in a 3-1 rout that was a sour end to the Red Bulls’ season.

As the 2011 schedule kicked off, the mission couldn’t have been clearer for the Red Bulls who have yet to win the MLS Cup despite being an original MLS franchise.  Boosted by the arrival of two-time MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, there is an expectation that New York must deliver the title now.  Their collection of superstars in Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez and De Rosario is blended with experienced European pros such as Lindpere, Teemu Tainio and Jan Gunnar Solli.  Combined with homegrown talents Tim Ream, Dane Richards, Juan Agudelo and Austin da Luz, the Red Bulls are equipped for a genuine title challenge.

Head coach Hans Backe spoke to MLSsoccer.com about these expectations during the preseason.  “I feel a definite difference — much more confident this year.  It is a different mentality for the club now that we’ve rebuilt after that tough year and had some success in the league.  I think we have that confidence that maybe we didn’t have this time last year.”

Pressure to succeed is high and Lindpere, the barometer of the team spoke out after a 1-1 draw with the Fire on Sunday.  The Red Bulls failed to take advantage of their opportunities or keep hold of the 40th minute lead gained through Lindpere’s determined effort.  He demanded post-game that his teammates take accountability for a stretch of games that saw New York win only one game out of their last ten and lose grip on their prominent position of first place in the Eastern Conference.

“I am going to look at myself.  I hope my teammates look at themselves too so we play more as a team.  We just need to do a better job.  But it’s not enough.  Everyone on our team needs to think about what we should do and how we should play better,” Lindpere stated.

“I think everyone understands now that we cannot go on like this.  We score one, but we give goals back.  They get very stupid, easy goals against us, and then we fight to get the goals back.  Then we do something stupid again,” he continued.

Clearly, Lindpere isn’t pulling any punches and is being frank on the current state of affairs.  It’s refreshing to hear a player not being content with his own play and spurring on his teammates to find that extra gear.  Lindpere is serious about winning trophies for the Red Bulls as he abandoned national team duty to concentrate on his club career.

He’s a true rarity as many notable stars of the MLS have placed their international careers over their clubs who pays their wages.  Lindpere has proven that leadership doesn’t always come from those who wear the captain’s armband.  That’s no knock on Henry who is serving the role well but rather the inspiration and determination that Lindpere brings.

What do you make of Lindpere’s comments?  Is this the kind of motivation that the Red Bulls need?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.

  • Santástico

    Great piece on the Estonian Beast. As you said, he provides leadership even without the captain’s armband.

    Sean, curious as to your thoughts (and if you have any additional insight) on the DeRo trade.
    Additionally, how do you forsee Dax’s different role/playing style effecting the roles of other RB midfield stalwarts Richards, Tainio and Lindpere?

  • Martin

    Great article Sean, keep them coming!

  • Rob Lesk

    Joel is underrated. Guy needs a pay raise and another chance in c-mid.

  • Jake

    If I recall correctly, Lindpere is making well below what he’s worth in terms of salary. The fact that he doesn’t allow his contract to become an issue – in his prime earning years – also speaks to his utmost professionalism.

    Love watching the motor on guys like Lindpere, and Tank Rodgers. If Dax is as advertised, we could have another high motor guy.

  • James

    I’m amazed every time I see what Lindpere is making yearly, he deserves much more. I’d have no problem with his contract being renegotiated, he has certainly earned it.

    • Jake

      Hah, I see you were thinking the same thing just as I posted mine.

  • Greg

    NYRB are handicapped by the fact that we have two backup keepers. However, 1 win in 10 matches is abysmal with a salary this size. Joel has been a consummate professional here, and I’m happy that he said this.

  • hartylfc

    Dwayne De Rosario has been traded to DC United for Dax McCarthy. This literally came out of nowhere.

  • Jay Walk

    It was jaw-dropping to see Lindpere being paid a base salary of $90k. He sounds more of a captain than Henry or Mendes ever will be.

  • tilt215

    Lindpere is probably the hardest working athlete in the ny area. FACT

  • irishapple21

    I wish all the Red Bulls had the passion of Lindpere. Still, the fact that we’ve only lost one game in the past month, despite missing most of the starting lineup is pretty impressive. I don’t think things are as dire as fans believe. It’s just history’s shadow casting a pall over matters right now.

  • Harraby Lad

    Joel Lindpere has nothing on Malcolm Poskett. Perhaps he needs to play for a real football team and not a corporation focused on increasing their global brand.

    • Jamaica Qns

      Someone of your self-proclaimed pedigree should understand that the important thing is the connection between players and the supporters, not some idealized ownership situation. Joel staying behind to help this team win a trophy and sharing drinks with fans tells me that he does indeed play for a real team.

      *Nobody buy anything from the Onion Bag in North Bergen* This guy is the owner.

      • hartylfc

        I know Iain well, he just likes to ruffle a few feathers with RBNY supporters. His store proudly carries RBNY gear. I’m a fan of some of his rival soccer clubs but I get my gear from the OB.

    • irishapple21

      Go support the Philadelphia Bimbos, you hack.

    • hartylfc

      Thanks for weighing in, Iain. Typically a Union supporters’ reaction though I do like the old-school Carlisle reference.

    • Christian

      Oh Ian, just admit you love the Red Bulls :)

  • Christian

    The Red Bulls performance in the 2nd half has been extremely porous these past few weeks. A commenter on the Red Bull fan board had mentioned that Coach Backe’s mentor, Sven Goran Erikson, also was renowned for his team having issues in the 2nd half in terms of keeping up the level of play and making necessary adjustments as well as poor substitutions. Backe’s substitutions, when he does make them, are always confusing and tactically speaking don’t make sense. I hope this is all simply an aberration caused by the absence of players for CONCACAF Gold Cup and that the team will regain its form.

    • hartylfc

      It would well be an aberration with the shortness of the squad due to the Gold Cup. Getting those players back is the key. It seems that Backe doesn’t trust in RBNY’s depth without Marquez, Agudelo, etc.

      I understand where you’re coming from on the Sven thing. I’ve followed his career closely and that was a big criticism of his managing style. Is Backe guilty by association? – Sean Hartnett

      • Christian

        Perhaps it’s a bit of assumption on my part to say that Backe is guilty by association, but it is alarming to see his reluctance to use subs. My biggest concern at this time is that the reserves that he plans on running out in the US Open Cup match vs FC-New York are going to be out of form that the Red Bulls will lose tomorrow night.

        Nonetheless, I am willing to give the team the benefit of the doubt. I know it is rather foolish based upon the track record of Metro/Red Bull but I’m an optimist….and a Jets fan haha.

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