The scene was set for a disappointing result for the Red Bulls last Sunday.
Playing in blistering 90-degree Texas heat against a 10-man FC Dallas side that refused to quit after an early red card, New York was on the verge of surrendering the first goal. After a quick turnover in the midfield, FCD's Danny Garcia rampaged in on the Red Bulls' goal in the 58th minute of play. As he reached the penalty box, he was pulled back by a chasing Tim Cahill and earned a penalty kick. Blas Perez stepped up to take the spot kick for the Hoops and it looked like all was lost for the Red Bulls.
Enter Luis Robles. New York's goalkeeper turned into the team's savior, parrying away Perez's shot to keep the Red Bulls level with Dallas.
The visitors would go on and take the three points behind a 71st-minute goal from – who else – Bradley Wright-Phillips, but without Robles' penalty save, New York's trip to the heart of Texas would probably have been an unsuccessful one.
“Luis saved us [Sunday], without a doubt,” head coach Mike Petke said in his post-match comments. “ … it's a phenomenal save and it kept us in the game.”
With over a quarter of the season gone, it's hard not to argue that Robles has been the Red Bulls' most valuable player. The shot stopper has been consistent throughout the campaign -- he's played every minute of every match so far -- and leads Major League Soccer with 41 saves made through 10 games. He's tied for fourth in the league with a save percentage of 75 percent and is making a strong case to be MLS's starting goalie in the All-Star Game this year.
His solid performances have not gone unnoticed by his teammates, including the team captain.
“[Robles] does that every week or every Wednesday or whenever we play,” Thierry Henry said after the match against Dallas. “He kept us in the game when we didn't deserve to be nil-nil.”
Robles said that good scouting before Perez's kick was the reason he was able to make the match-winning save.
“There were a couple of things that [Perez] did before the PK that made me feel more confident,” he said. “I felt like he tipped me on which side he was going to go. At the end of the day, it was necessary to get the three points.”
While the Red Bulls were able to escape with the victory, Petke was none too pleased to have had his team play in less-than-ideal circumstances.
With the sun baking Toyota Park and the mercury well into the 90s, the Red Bulls' boss took to task the powers that be that allowed the match to be played Sunday.
“My hat is off to my team as well as Dallas' team,” he said. “To have to go and play in the conditions that we played in [Sunday], I'll be honest, I thought those days were behind us ...That's a terrible environment to play in.”
A LOOK AHEAD: VS. CHICAGO FIRE
The Red Bulls are back at the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena after two straight matches on the road, as they host the Chicago Fire Saturday. Complete coverage starts at 6:30 PM on MSG Network.
Fortunes have changed for the Red Bulls since they last saw the Fire back on March 23 where both sides played to a 1-1 draw. New York is unbeaten in its last four matches and is tied for the lead in the Eastern Conference. Things have not changed much for Chicago, however. The Fire is still searching for its first of win of the season and sit at the bottom of the league with just six points through eight matches.
Chicago was mere minutes from picking up its first win of the season in its last match, only to surrender two injury-time goals to Real Salt Lake in a 3-2 loss last Saturday.
With that in mind, the Red Bulls cannot afford to take the Fire lightly, especially with 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee playing up front for Chicago. A former Red Bull, Magee has quickly become one of the league's most feared strikers and will be looking to make a case for himself to be included on Jurgen Klinsmann's US Men's National Team when it heads to Brazil for the World Cup.
New York's lineup is expected to be similar to the one that took the field against FC Dallas. Cahill had his struggles in his return to the starting 11, but Petke was still pleased with what we saw from the Australian international in his 61 minutes against Dallas and expects him to perform better.
“It’s not easy coming back from that long off in those conditions, but overall I think that his movement was good, his defensive responsibilities were very good, so yeah happy with Tim for his first game back,” Petke said to the media Tuesday.