New York, who last year finished bottom of the league, entered Saturday night’s match in Salt Lake firmly entrenched in second place in the Eastern Conference. Backe cautioned that this year he didn’t expect the team to challenge for a MLS Cup, even as the side has taken nine points out of their past four games.
“It can happen,” Backe said earlier this week about the team’s Cup aspirations. “But you don’t make that kind of turnaround in seven months.”
Against RSL, one of the league’s top teams, the Red Bulls had a chance to make a statement. But alas, the Red Bulls missed their chance to do so by losing 1-0 on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
The result could have been far more lopsided. Perhaps the Eastern Conference side looked inept because they were missing four starters due to national team duty, or maybe it was just that Real, now unbeaten in 22 consecutive home games in league play, are simply that good.
Either way, the match underscored just how much of a work in progress this team remains, especially when missing a difference-maker such as Rafa Márquez on the pitch.
“I think in the first half [RSL] were moving the ball very well, [and] as a team they were moving so well,” Danleigh Borman told MLSsoccer.com.
For the entirety of the first half, the Red Bulls scarcely were able to hold the ball in Real Salt Lake’s half of the field, let alone in their attacking third.
The difference between the two clubs was clear as the home side distinguished themselves with their precision passing and their superb spacing off the ball. Stats sometimes paint a good picture of the game and, at the half, they accurately represented the dynamic of this one, as Real Salt Lake held a five-to-one shot on goal advantage over New York.
“I think we came out real slow from the start,” Borman said. “But in the second half, you saw more attack and more movement from us. I think we took it to them more in the second half.”
Thus, it’s the final 45 minutes of this game that will give New York some hope heading into the final stretch of the season.
The Red Bulls had spurts of promise in the complementary period, including a flurry of chances for Juan Pablo Angel in the 55th minute. However, RSL were able to hold tight against scattered opportunities for the visitors.
Earlier in the week, Red Bulls’ head coach Hans Backe said that he considered Los Angeles, Columbus and Real Salt Lake to be a different caliber of team in MLS and that his New York side wasn’t at that standard.
And while that statement proved true as the Red Bulls were outplayed by RSL on Saturday, they still feel that there was something good to take away from that second half performance.
“I think we have things, obviously, that we need to work on this week,” Borman said. “But we’re not far behind these top teams at all.”