BULLS RUN: A DEFENSIVE DILEMMA

It must irk a former defender like Mike Petke to no end that his team is seemingly unable to keep the ball out of the net.

Last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with San Jose was yet another match the Red Bulls dropped points due to defensive errors. With New York looking to close out a win against the Earthquakes, a poor clearance in the Red Bulls’ penalty box led to Steven Lenhart’s dramatic 85th-minute equalizer to give the Quakes a share of the spoils.

It’s been a recurring theme this season and a sight that Petke is sick of seeing. New York has only manage to record three shutouts in 20 games and haven’t had one since a May 4 victory over FC Dallas. The Red Bulls have allowed 31 goals in 20 matches, or 1.55 goals per game . Compare that to 2013, when New York gave up 41 goals in 34 games, or roughly 1.2 goals per game.

It’s been a myriad of issues that have plagued the Red Bulls’ head coach throughout the season. Petke has had to rely on youth more than he’s expected to this season due to the fact that veteran players on the roster have simply disappointed.

Petke has yet to find a consistent center-back partner for Jamison Olave and the results have been mediocre at best. After losing Markus Holgersson last year, the Red Bulls’ front office had hoped that an Olave-Armando partnership would flourish. Unfortunately for New York, Armando has found more of a penchant for getting himself suspended instead of being in the starting XI. Petke has tried 19-year-old Matt Miazga and Ibrahim Sekagya alongside Olave, but those combinations have yet to find much success.

Full back has also been a problem. Petke has been missing the services of Roy Miller since May 10 after the left back went to Brazil to join up with the Costa Rican national team at the World Cup. It was expected that Bobby Convey would be used as the stand-in left back while Miller was away, but the former US international has yet to impress. Petke has opted to go for youth in recent matches, calling on 23-year-old Ambroise Oyongo. Over at right back, Petke has also opted to go with youth over experience, choosing 22-year-old Chris Duvall over Kosuke Kimura.

While this fits into the Red Bulls’ vision for the long-term development of their youth players, it has come at a cost. Miazaga was on the bench for the match against San Jose after making several high-profile mistakes in previous matches. Nevertheless, the coach remains undeterred and believes in his youngsters.

“These kids have energy,” Petke told the media after the match against San Jose. “These kids have done a good job so far. That’s all I want to say because [they’re] still young. I’m not ready to call them ‘the next this’ or proclaim them to be ‘bonafide starters or all-stars’. They’re young kids who have done well with their opportunities. If they keep continuing to do that it’s positive for us.”

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