With much of the pregame focus placed squarely on the Red Bulls' latest forward, it was the New York midfield that struggled in their 2-0 defeat to the Columbus Crew on Saturday.
A lackluster performance by the four-man midfield doomed the Red Bulls after an injury to Salou Ibrahim late in the week forced head coach Hans Backe to move winger Dane Richards up top with Juan Pablo Angel.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
The loss was New York's first in six games following a streak that included three wins and two draws. Had they defeated Columbus, New York would have leaped ahead of the Crew for sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they now trail by five points in second place.
“I think we didn’t show up tonight,” midfielder Joel Lindpere told MLSsoccer.com. “We weren’t as organized as we should have been. We didn’t play to our strength – we were running after the ball the whole night.”
This past week's big signing, Thierry Henry, watching his teammates in league action for the first time, witnessed a less-than-inspiring performance by his new squad, who struggled to maintain possession and lost nearly every battle in the middle of the park.
The game underscored the Red Bulls' need for a true central midfielder who can dictate the flow and pace of the game. With Henry soon to leave the stands for the pitch, the need for a midfielder who can deliver him scoring opportunities is reaching an apex.
Lindpere said there was no issue of the team being distracted with the Henry signing this past week, either. It was just that the team wasn’t “ready to play.” However, the Estonian said the whole team struggled, not just the midfield.
“We went into this game like we wanted to win, but sometimes it doesn’t happen,” Lindpere said. “It wasn’t one or two players who lost this game, it was the whole team. We just weren’t organized or disciplined."
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 at twitter.com/kdyer1012