‘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.