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.
Soccer games with nine goals are thrilling for viewers and spectators, but for coaches, sometimes they’re ones to forget.
Mike Petke will be hoping his Red Bulls will forget last Saturday’s 5-4 defeat to the Chicago Fire, a match that featured disastrous defending by the home side. After taking a 2-1 lead heading into the halftime break, New York surrendered four goals within a 15-minute span in the second half and had its 13-game home unbeaten streak snapped by a formerly winless Fire squad. The Red Bulls showed character by rallying and pulling within a goal late in the match, but they were unable to complete the comeback.
Petke didn’t hold his tongue during his post-match interview with Tina Cervasio and was critical of his team’s performance.
“Chicago played like a team that needed the win – and they do, this is [its] first win of the season,” he said. “We played like a team that thought we were going to win at home because we’re the Red Bulls and we’re playing at Red Bull Arena. So, it wasn’t good enough.”
To Petke’s count, New York inflicted three wounds on to itself during that chaotic spell during the second half. The Fire pressed hard and high, swarming the Red Bulls in the final third and forced turnovers that led to easy scoring opportunities. Harrison Shipp was one of the Fire players all too happy to take advantage, as the rookie forward recorded his first MLS hat trick in the tilt.
“We just made mistakes and anytime you give a team a couple of balls in the box, uncontested, guys are good enough to finish that,” Dax McCarty told the media following the match.
While bitterly disappointed, the Red Bulls were willing to chalk up the defensive effort against the Fire as a nightmarish game that they will prevent from happening again.
“We are still a good team, it’s not a great result; obviously,” McCarty said. “Just because of one bad game or one bad… 20 minutes, where they just put basically on frame and score four goals. I don’t think you’re going to see a game like that ever again.”
A LOOK AHEAD: AT TORONTO FC
It’s set to be a star-studded affair north of the border Saturday as the Red Bulls take on Toronto FC at BMO Field. Complete match coverage begins at 4 PM on MSG+.
The darlings of the offseason, TFC splashed the cash during the transfer window and brought in three international-caliber players with big-name pedigrees – Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Julio Cesar.
So far, the results have been mixed. After beginning the season with two consecutive victories, Toronto has not won a match since April 5. Defoe, a former star with the English Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur and the England National Team, began the season on fire with three goals, but missed three matches due to a hamstring injury. The striker did make his return last week against New England and is expected to be fit for Saturday’s match.
But the hottest English striker in MLS is Bradley Wright-Phillips, the league’s leading scorer with nine goals. Fresh off scoring his second hat trick this season, Wright-Phillips will be looking to continue his rich vein of form in Toronto.
New York will be shorthanded and without the services of Tim Cahill and Roy Miller, as both Red Bulls headed for provisional World Cup camps with Australia and Costa Rica. With two of his preferred starting XI out, Petke will be forced to make changes. The smart money is on Péguy Luyindula to replace Cahill in midfield and former TFC man Richard Eckersley to be installed at right back, with Kosuke Kimura switching flanks and playing in Miller’s place at left back.
ROBLES THE HERO AS RED BULLS ESCAPE DALLAS WITH A WIN
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.
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.
After struggling to find the right partner for Thierry Henry this season, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke may have finally found his man.
It started back on April 16, with the Red Bulls winless and in need of a spark. Petke decided to pair Henry with Bradley Wright-Phillips as his strike partner against the Philadelphia Union. The result was the Red Bulls first win of 2014 and the start of a three-game unbeaten run that has seen Wright-Phillips at the center of New York’s good fortunes.
The former Manchester City man tallied four goals in the next two matches – a hat trick versus the Houston Dynamo on April 23 and the game-tying tally last Saturday against the Columbus Crew – and earned Major League Soccer’s Players of the Week honors for his blistering-hot form.
With Wright-Phillips firmly established in the starting lineup, he is now finding his comfort zone with Henry and the rest of the team.
“I feel like when I play with Thierry and most of the players, I feel like I’m going to get a chance … at some stage of the game,” he said to the media after his career night against Houston. “I don’t worry about getting chances, just putting them away.”
Petke has been impressed with Wright-Phillips’ partnership with Henry and credits the Englishman for putting in a good shift when partnering the Red Bulls captain up top.
“Well, it’s not easy to play partner along someone like Thierry,” Petke said. “And I mean that in a good way because Thierry is a guy that likes to drop, and he’s so creative that a lot of times only one guy up front. It’s not an easy task for somebody. Bradley’s accepted that throughout this year and he knows he’s the guy that has to occupy the center backs for large chunks.”
A LOOK AHEAD: AT FC DALLAS (SUNDAY 2:30 PM, MSG)
The Red Bulls face their sternest test Sunday when they hit the road to battle FC Dallas.
Tied with the Seattle Sounders for the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race, FC Dallas had been one of MLS’s hottest teams before losing, 4-1, to DC United last week.
It could be a good time for the Red Bulls to head down to Texas with the Hoops facing a variety of injury and suspensions issues. Playmaker Mauro Diaz, MLS’s Player of the Month in March, left the match against DC United with a knock to his knee, while midfielder Michel and right back Zach Loyd will be unavailable for Sunday’s contest due to red cards received against DC United.
Despite the missing personnel for FC Dallas, Petke is not taking Sunday’s match lightly.
“They have two players out for suspension, but I don’t think that really affects them as much as perhaps it would other teams because they do have other valuable players and the system that they play,” he said on a conference call Tuesday. “They have the players on the bench, as well, who come on and know their position. So I expect a very difficult game in Dallas, extremely difficult.”
The Red Bulls will be facing their own lineup headaches, albeit one Petke will welcome. Tim Cahill is expected to be at full fitness, and, despite New York’s three-game unbeaten run, Petke said that the Australian international will more than likely play some part in the match against FC Dallas.
“Tim is a very valuable part of this group and it’s easy to fit someone like Tim in when he’s 100 percent healthy,” he said. “So whether that will be in the midfield, up front, there should and will always be a place for Tim whether that’s off the bench or to start.”
It took seven games, but theRed Bulls were finally able to take three points home after a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union last Wednesday.
New York controlled the balance of play of the majority of its tilt against Philadelphia and was able to convert their dominance into a goal behind a classy strike by Thierry Henry in 57th minute. Despite being held scoreless in the first half, the Red Bulls’ captain was confident that his team would eventually find the break through.
“[This win] was coming,” Henry said to MSG’s Joe Tolleson after the match. “We were creating a lot in some games … although I think the first half wasn’t the best. But we did what we had to do in the second half.”
Lloyd Sam would add an insurance goal 10 minutes later, heading home a pinpoint cross from Eric Alexander. It was a standout performance from Alexander, who was employed in an unfamiliar left-sided midfielder role in coach Mike Petke’s 4-4-2 formation. Petke made a subtle change, using the left-footed Sam on the right and the right-footed Alexander on the left, but one that proved to be decisive, as Alexander terrorized Union right back Raymon Gaddis and was inspirational for both Red Bulls goals.
The reasoning behind using Alexander wide left was to create a numerical advantage down the left and use their superior technical ability against Philadelphia.
“That was a tactical to have right footer on the left [Wednesday] because we wanted to overload the midfield a bit,” Petke said in his postmatch press conference. With Thierry and Péguy [Luyindula] sitting ahead of Dax [McCarty], Thierry likes to make those runs behind defenders and we wanted Eric to come in there. I thought he did alright, I thought he did well. I’m a big fan of Eric’s, his ability with the ball. For me, I wanted to get guys on the field who are very comfortable with the ball.”
Alexander has quickly become one of Petke’s most trusted players on the pitch and established himself as a week-to-week starter since being traded to New York from Portland in 2013. His progression has not gone unnoticed.
“He’s been doing what we saw last year,” Henry said. “That’s what we want from him. He played in an unusual place [Wednesday], but he was good.”
The importance of the victory can’t be understated. Petke admitted that the nerves were creeping in and that picking up the three points will be a huge relief going forward.
“It’s a good feeling, now we’ll go back and look at it again,” he said. “And there are always things to correct, but overall we are very happy we got that under our belt.”
The one negative to come out of the match against the Union was Ibrahim Sekagya’s red card. The Red Bulls’ center back was sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity via a handball in the penalty box and will miss this Wednesday’s playoff rematch against the Houston Dynamo.
“I can’t fault Sekagya on that play, he had like three or four superman blocks in a row and one hit his hand,” Petke said.
With Sekagya out, Petke’s options in center defense are the recently returned Armando and 18-year-old Matt Miazga.