Earlier on Saturday, New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe admitted his club would spend the World Cup break looking for new talent. Offensive talent, in particular. A game changer, even. A superstar, perhaps.
In the meantime, though—until that final piece of the Backe puzzle is found—the Red Bulls have found a way, winning games by playing solid defense and relying on the workhorses they already have to be game-changers.
The Red Bulls edged past Chivas USA, 1-0, behind a first-half Seth Stammler strike and another impressive defensive outing. The win—the Red Bulls' second straight—puts NY in a first-place tie with Columbus in the Eastern Conference.
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With veteran defender Mike Petke resting, Backe patched up his back line by handing a rare start to Carlos Mendes, who paired with rookie Tim Ream in the middle. The duo, along with flank players Chris Albright and Danleigh Borman, handled Chivas' lively attack well, despite being constantly pestered by forwards Justin Braun and Maykel Galindo.
"I'm not sure how many chances Chivas got today," Backe said. "Mendes and Ream defended well today. … Mendes is on the same level, I would say, as Petke and Ream."
Mendes made at least two key tackles in the first-half after Braun had snuck behind the back line. Ream then made a game-saving block from Galindo in the second half, perhaps signalling a return to form for the rookie, who had slumped in recent weeks.
"I was able to step up and stick my foot in," Ream said of the play on Galindo. "I blocked it and was able to change the game at that point. … In the last few games, defensively we've been pretty good. I've made a few mistakes today, but other than that we've been okay. We really wanted to get away from what we've been doing during our losing streak."
While the defense did its part, New York needed just a single moment up top to earn the full three points on Saturday. That game-changing moment came from seven-year midfielder Stammler, who tallied his second goal of the season after firing off a shot from distance and through traffic.
"I am delighted for his goal because I know that it brings a great deal of confidence when you score goals," team captain Juan Pablo Angel said. "And as I said, it was enough to win the game."
The goal may have been tinged with a little luck, but with an inexperienced backup 'keeper in the Chivas net—Dan Kennedy was filling in for the suspended Zach Thornton—he perhaps fancied his chance with a pot-shot.
"The coaches have been encouraging me to shoot a lot more, so I have been trying to take my chances whenever I get them," Stammler said. "I got lucky that time. I made good contact and for a low shot, it got through all the traffic in front of goal."
Stammler doesn't get a lot of goals, and he's not always a fixture in the lineup. Ditto for Sinisa Ubiparipovic, whose solid performance on Wednesday helped the Red Bulls defeat Houston.
But with the Red Bulls staff out looking to bolster the attack, the old guard proved they can still contribute on a team that will likely boast a more glamorous look following the break.
Though Ubiparipovic didn't get much of a chance to follow up the performance on Saturday as he strained his hamstring just eight minutes into the match, he acknowledged his good performances can't hurt his chances of staying in the coach's plans following the break.
"I think it's important," Ubiparipovic said. "I know we're trying to improve our team in any way possible, whether that's working with us or getting new players in. I think results have been coming our way for the most part right now. If there's someone else out there who can help the team, let's see what happens."
David Agrell is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.