UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Before last Saturday's showdown in Salt Lake City, the New York Red Bulls had one loss in their previous six games, and that was to league-leading Los Angeles.
But this past weekend’s 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake revealed a New York side that didn’t just get outplayed in the first half of the match, it got dominated. And it was RSL’s midfield that did the beatdown.
En route to a 1-0 halftime lead that should have been, truth be told, much larger, the MLS Cup holders' midfield controlled the flow of the game.
New York struggled for meaningful possession, especially in the first half, when the Red Bulls controlled the ball in their opponent’s side of the pitch with any real purpose less than a handful of times.
“It definitely is a mental thing,” head coach Hans Backe told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “We went down early and from there, it is an uphill battle. That changes how you approach things, how you pursue the game. It set us back.”
The Red Bulls were missing two regulars from their midfield lineup, winger Dane Richards and central midfielder Rafa Márquez, both away on international duty. Against the best four-man midfield in MLS, the missing players doomed the Red Bulls to a slow start and, as Backe put it, “an uphill battle.”
It wasn’t that Real Salt Lake were constantly dangerous in New York’s penalty area, but rather, they dictated the flow of play.
“They didn’t create that many chances ... on us,” Backe said. “We had to defend constantly throughout the first half as we just played to respond to them. We didn’t get the ball forward enough in ways that would make us dangerous.”
In the second half, as RSL began to fatigue, New York began to exert some more control over the midfield.
“We started slow, it wasn’t a good way to start the match,” Joel Lindpere said. “But I think we came together more in the second half and we played as more of a unit. I think we were rather unlucky to not get a tie.”
The Red Bulls – also without left back Roy Miller, who adds a lot of possession from his overlapping position – showed a side that can control the flow of play and kick the ball around a bit against a top-class side.
“In this league, to be a good team, you need to control possession,” goalkeeper Greg Sutton said. “I mean, like 65 percent of the possession where you’re controlling the flow of the game. I think, in spurts, we showed we can do that, even [while] missing some players.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012.