Red Bulls’ Arteaga Faces Battle For Minutes With U.S. Open Cup Run Over

Written by Ian Thomson
New York Red Bulls' forward Jhonny Arteaga in training at the club's media day on March 22 (Photo: Ian Thomson)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – It’s been difficult for New York Red Bulls striker Jhonny Arteaga to make an impression in his first year in Major League Soccer.

Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper’s inspired goalscoring form has limited the Stamford, Conn. native’s playing time to just 16 minutes scattered over four late substitute appearances. Henry’s recent injuries problems didn’t make a difference. Head Coach Hans Backe favored using Mehdi Ballouchy or Joel Lindpere in an advanced supporting role from a five-man midfield.

Arteaga earned his move to MLS after being the top scorer in the United Soccer Leagues Pro Division last year with 13 goals for F.C. New York. It’s been against USL opponents in the U.S. Open Cup that Backe has given Arteaga time to shine. Rustiness prevented any sparkle in his two recent starts against Charleston Battery and Harrisburg City Islanders.

Harrisburg’s Skyline Sports Complex hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Arteaga. F.C. New York were thumped 5-1 by the rampant Islanders last July, though Arteaga did salvage a consolation goal from the penalty spot. He failed to register a single shot on goal when the teams tied 0-0 the following month.

The 25-year-old had two first-half chances to cancel out Sainey Touray’s early opener during Tuesday’s 3-1 extra-time defeat for the Red Bulls. He screwed a left-foot shot wide of the far post on 24 minutes and dragged a similar effort from the right side of the penalty box wide of target on 37 minutes after being set up by Jan Gunnar Solli.

“I think on one I should have taken a touch,” Arteaga told The Soccer Observer after the game. “I’m in the box, and usually you don’t have too much time.”

That proved to be the case in the second half as Harrisburg conceded oceans of territory down the flanks to defend the center of their penalty area.

“Defensively they were really tight,” Arteaga said. “We tried to stretch them as much as possible by playing wide and getting crosses in. It was just one of those nights that we couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”

Arteaga’s chances to get on the scoresheet dried up as the game wore on and the lack of goalmouth action seemed to affect his confidence. He was slow to move the ball on a couple of occasions when New York were in position to exploit space on the counter-attack, and Assistant Coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen jumped from the bench to scold him for needlessly being caught offside during one attack as the Red Bulls pushed for a winning goal.

Intense pressure from Harrisburg’s spirited defenders saw Arteaga struggle to hold the ball up and his arms gradually rose higher to fend off his markers. That caused a flashpoint in injury time during the 90 minutes when Islanders left-back Stephen Basso crumpled to the turf after contact from Arteaga’s flailing arm. Referee Robert Sibiga showed a yellow card to both players, much to the consternation of Harrisburg’s bench.

“It was a simple play,” Arteaga said. “I was running to the ball, he put his arm on me and I put my arm right back on him. That was it.”

One half-chance fell Arteaga’s way in the first period of extra time. His shot was quickly charged down. Now with the cup run over he must keep training diligently in the hope that he’s not shut out from Backe’s MLS plans.

The experiences of Juan Agudelo, John Rooney and Corey Hertzog suggest he may have another frustrating battle on his hands.