It seems like every time the Red Bulls take a step forward this season, they hit a bump in the road that derails their progress.
New York suffered another setback last Saturday, falling to Toronto FC, 2-0. Despite dominating possession throughout the match – 60 percent to 40 percent – the Red Bulls paid for their sloppiness in play. A turnover in midfield by the Red Bulls and a quick transition by TFC led to Jermain Defoe’s 12th-minute goal. Then, a lack of communication between Luis Robles and substitute right back Chris Duvall contributed to the easy tap in for Luke Moore’s 95th-minute game-killing tally.
“We had too many giveaways, too many loose passes and too many instances where we gave them the ball back too easily,” Dax McCarty said to the media after the match.
What must be most alarming to coach Mike Petke has been the sheer amount of goals the Red Bulls have surrendered in the last two matches. Seven goals allowed in the last two contests must make the ex-defender cringe and just two shutouts through 14 matches must have him baffled.
This season’s struggles on defense do come with a caveat. The Red Bulls have had injuries in defense and are missing Roy Millerand Tim Cahill due to the World Cup. With that said, the center-back pairing has been fairly consistent, which makes the struggles all the more puzzling. Jamison Olave and Armando have been the stalwarts at center back and it seems as if both players have yet to develop the same chemistry Olave and former Red Bulls Markus Holgersson had last season when New York rode the paring’s success to the Supporters’ Shield title.
But defending isn’t just job of the back four alone. The entire team is responsible for defensive play and the Red Bulls’ midfield has just been as culpable as the defense for the poor showing so far Teams who are able to transition quickly and counterattack can be just as effective as a team that possesses the ball for long periods of time. Turnovers, such as the one that led to Defoe’s goal, have been the Red Bulls’ bugaboo for the most of the season and must be eliminated if they wish to get in better playoff positioning.
With two matches in four days in the upcoming week, they won’t have much time to get it right.
A LOOK AHEAD: VS. PORTLAND TIMBERS
The Red Bulls might be able to cure their woes this Saturday when they play host to the Portland Timbers.
It’s been a complete 180-degree for Portland this season after finishing as the best team in the Western Conference in 2013. The Timbers have just one win through 10 matches in 2014 and are winless away from home.
Portland is coming off a resounding 3-3 draw with the Columbus Crew last Saturday and was able to rally for a point despite playing with 10 men due a straight red card being given to defender Alvas Powell.
Expect the Timbers to lineup in a 4-2-3-1 formation with striker Gaston Fernadez at the spearhead of the attack. The Argentine forward leads Portland with five goals this season and scored the game-tying goal in the match against the Crew.