It was well known ahead of time that the New York Red Bulls would be entering this past Saturday’s match against FC Dallas a bit shorthanded in the defensive department. With Rafa Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli each sitting out due to suspensions, combined with Roy Miller’s leg injury, the short-staffed New York squad was met with the challenge of filling in the blanks alongside Tim Ream. By night’s end, the gritty play came through big as the opposition was held scoreless and the Red Bulls went on to earn their first win since early July.
Defender Carlos Mendes was beaming with confidence after training late last week, noting that moments like the one New York faced Saturday evening are the sort of things guys train for all year. Guys like Stephen Keel, who posted a stellar defensive performance in his eighth start of the season.
“It was kind of a bend but don’t break mentality where we absorbed some pressure,” said Keel. “But everyone from the front, from Juan [Agudelo] and Luke [Rodgers], all the way back to the back four and Frank [Rost], everyone defended their tails off and I think it showed with the one-nil result.”
Although Dallas was playing without the likes of Brek Shea and Marvin Chavez, the threats were still evident in Maicon Santos and Ricardo Villar. The speedy front was creating chances early on and well throughout the game, but New York's back four of Mendes, Keel, Chris Albright and Ream did their part to keep a clean sheet.
On the surface the game was best described by players around Monday’s training as not being “pretty,” but as any fan or player would tell you, pretty play doesn’t always guarantee three points either. It was a gritty win, a gutsy win and given the timing, a much-needed win for a Red Bulls team battling for playoff contention.
A defender's play may not translate to the scoresheet every match, but there are times when heads-up play remains a big part of a team's success. Literally.
“As a center back that’s my job to get the ball out,” said Keel of his zone-clearing headers. “If that requires using this big 'ol mop up top then I’ll do it. No problem.”
With Real Salt Lake on the docket Wednesday night, the team hopes to ride this momentum and continue a surge up the table. In the previous Aug. 6 meeting at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL walked away with a 3-0 win that saw goalkeeper Frank Rost leave at the half with a quad injury. Now, back on Red Bull Arena grass, New York is aiming to flip the script.