The Red Bulls bowed out of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night, losing to USL-2 side Harrisburg, 1-0, after extra time and three minutes before going to penalty kicks. No longer in the tournament, the Red Bulls can now focus solely on their surprising league season. Boasting an 8-5 mark, the club sits tied with the Columbus Crew atop the Eastern Conference.
“I’m not surprised," head coach Hans Backe told MLSsoccer.com. "The way we played – that’s the history of the cup. We played three good games – New England, Colorado and Philadelphia – and then a poor one last night. You always have to play at a high level, and our performance dipped in a way.”
Backe said that three players on the team – goalkeeper Greg Sutton and defenders Luke Sassano and Mike Petke – “could hold their heads high after the game.”
The goal came just as the game appeared headed to penalties. A Harrisburg player took a shot, which Sutton saved along with the subsequent rebound. The ball, Sutton said, was then partially cleared and Harrisburg slotted an effort back that beat the Red Bulls’ goalkeeper for the game’s only goal.
Sutton acknowledges that if he hadn’t conceded a rebound, the game would have gone to penalties, but he said that the whole team could have done better.
“We should never have put ourselves in that spot in the first place,” Sutton told MLSsoccer.com.
On Monday head coach Hans Backe conceded that the team had failed in their quest to land a creative playmaker, a player whom he had seemed to be optimistic in signing the week before. Last week, Backe told MLSsoccer.com that the Red Bulls were pursuing a “world-class” European midfielder to distribute the ball and be creative centrally. He had indicated that it would be a familiar name to soccer fans in this country.
Then earlier this week, Backe said that the move had fallen through and that the player had signed elsewhere. Today, Backe told MLSsoccer.com that the team had been actively pursuing “two names,” both of which have fallen through. He said that right now there is no other option on the table in terms of obtaining a creative midfielder.
Backe is also uncertain about the status of English forward Luke Rodgers and if he will ever get clearance from the American embassy to play in MLS. Rodgers has had several incidents with law enforcement during his career and therefore has come under heavy scrutiny, meaning he needs special clearance to enter the country. There is no contingency plan in place should Rodgers not obtain his entry visa.
News and Notes
The conditions in Harrisburg for the match were far from ideal, with several players saying that the grass was much higher than they anticipated, slowing down the quick passing of the Red Bulls. “It got into the players’ heads,” said one member of the team administration … After missing Monday’s practice, Juan Pablo Angel was training with the team again on Wednesday … Dane Richards was back with the first team on Wednesday, participating in drills and games. He even sprinted and showed himself fit from his hamstring injury earlier this month. Backe said that Richards should be available for Sunday’s game in Colorado. “It’s easy to get him fit in a way, he’s a small guy,” Backe said. … Brian Nielsen went almost 90 minutes on Tuesday night and did some light training but then went on the bike for much of the day’s training session … Mac Kandji, absent on Monday, did lots of running and participated in drills. He spent time after practice working on finishing with assistant coach Goran Aral.
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed on Twitter @kdyer1012.