SLOW START COSTS RED BULLS VS. SPORTING KC

On a night with plenty of hope and expectation, the Red Bulls simply came out flat.

With a chance to take the Eastern-Conference lead, New York came out lethargic in the open minutes Wednesday against Sporting Kansas City and paid for their state of malaise. The Bulls went on to suffer a 2-0 loss to Sporting, the first of the season at Red Bull Arena and the first shutout of the Red Bulls since July 9, 2011.

“For everyone, it’s very frustrating, going down that early” coach Hans Backe said to MSG’s Tina Cervasio after the game.  “This time, you have two set plays where it’s poor marking. You can’t lose these 1 v 1 to concede goals … we just feel that it’s a little bit too sloppy.”

Now five points behind Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls must figure out a way to rebound from the loss Saturday in New England, a place which has never been a happy hunting ground for the Red Bulls. The Red Bulls’ last win in Foxboro was June 29, 2002 and the team has suffered through an 18-game winless streak.

Henry, Marquez Missing?

To make matters worse, New York will probably be without the services of Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. With Gillette Stadium being an artificially-surfaced field and with the advanced age of both designated players, Backe will probably take no chances and keep his two stars in reserve for this one.

With five games left and a four-point cushion in the playoff race, the Red Bulls are in no imminent danger of missing the playoffs. Still, in a league that features a knockout tournament to decide its champion, New York must begin to build momentum for the playoffs. A win in the Red Bulls’ traditional house of horrors would be a start on the road to recovery.

The good news for Backe’s team is that the Red Bulls have strength in depth and survive the dual loss of their two most experienced players. If Marquez is unable to play, that could be a return to a starting central midfield role for Dax McCarty, who has started as a right-sided midfielder in the last two matches. While McCarty scored against Columbus last Saturday, his play in the center of the park merits him a starting role as a center midfielder. McCarty may not have Marquez’ long-distance passing ability, but the US International display is no slouch in possession and can press the opposition effectively when New York doesn’t have the ball.

If Henry is unavailable for selection, Backe will have to make a very important decision. Kenny Cooper will more than likely be used up front as a starter, but the question will be who the Swede will use to partner the Red Bulls’ second-leading scorer. Sebastien Le Toux has been somewhat disappointing in his short stint in New York while using Tim Cahill in a second striker role didn’t work on Wednesday.

Lies and Statistics

There’s an old adage in soccer: it doesn’t matter how much possession of the ball you have, it only matters what you with it.

Despite having a lion’s share of possession Wednesday — 61.7 percent — and out-passing Kansas City by over 200 passes, the Red Bulls didn’t create enough threatening chances.

It’s all about supply. Sure, we know Henry and Cooper can be clinical in front of goal, but they have to be given the ball in good areas. On Wednesday, New York failed to carve out many clear-cut chances and Henry was left somewhat isolated up front.

That can’t happen in games going forward.  The Red Bulls will usually dominate possession in most games; the key is to turn that possession into opportunities in the opposing half. With upcoming games against teams in the lower half of the Eastern Conference, New York will have to put that theory to good use.