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Despite draw, set-piece malaise continues to haunt NY

After conceding two set-piece goals in a loss to Chivas USA last Sunday, the New York Red Bulls talked all week about how there was no cause for alarm about their defending of dead-ball situations.

That may have changed in the 82nd minute of their 2-2 draw Saturday night at Houston. Another breakdown on a set piece in the second half overshadows what was otherwise a solid road performance for the Red Bulls.

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The Dynamo capitalized on their height advantage for the goal and what looked like a sure victory. Midfielder Brad Davis sent in an outswinging corner kick, finding the head of Geoff Cameron. The midfielder’s shot forced goalkeeper Greg Sutton into a diving save, and the big Canadian could only push the rebound out into the scrum.

The confusion in the box allowed Koke to poke the rebound into the back of the net for his first goal in MLS.

Mehdi Ballouchy’s equalizer 10 minutes later took the sting out of what’s showing to be a worrisome trend for New York, as five of the last six goals they’ve conceded have been off of set pieces.

“It kind of handcuffed me,” Sutton told of Cameron’s header which led to the rebound. “I don’t think it was anything bad we did — it was a good ball served in. Sometimes that just happens in a game, but it something we definitely need to keep working on.”

Nothing tactically was changed on set pieces Saturday night at Robertson Stadium as the Red Bulls continued to employ the same zonal marking system. Yet, for a third straight match, they got burned.

The only difference defensively for the Red Bulls against Houston was the insertion of Sutton into the starting XI. It was Sutton’s first start since March 19 when he had a clean sheet in the season opening 1-0 won over Seattle. The following week in training, Sutton fell on his head, hitting the artificial surface at Rutgers-Newark and suffering a concussion.

“[Coach Hans Backe] told me that I deserve to be back,” Sutton said. “He wanted me to be aggressive, they have some big guys in the box. He wasn’t too happy with how things were going back there.”

The move by Backe to start Sutton seemed to be a direct response to the chaos on set pieces from the week before.

With a 6-foot-6 frame, Sutton’s wingspan is ideal for controlling the area and corralling crosses on set pieces, especially against a tall Houston team known for their prowess in the air. He did well coming off his line and shutting down angles from the run of play. His only blemish before the late goal from Koke was a Davis penalty kick goal in the 12th minute, which canceled out a first-minute strike from Dane Richards.

“Positionally, you have to always be in a good spot to help the guys,” Sutton said. “Tonight, positionally, I was in the places I needed to be.”

Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at