HARRISON, NJ— It was a puzzling performance from the New York Red Bulls in their 2-2 draw with the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night. The Red Bulls held the run of play but were outshot by a far more opportunistic opponent. The Thursday Gaffer explores the themes from the disappointing draw at Red Bull Arena.
1. Unsettled pieces
The recent flurry of goals scored on the Red Bulls — eight goals over the past four games — is not the fault of the defense, necessarily. Seven of those scores have come off set pieces or penalty kicks, more an indictment of the team defense as a whole. Head coach Hans Backe had a hard time blaming goalkeeper Greg Sutton for either goal, the first being a penalty kick and the second a free kick that went through the defensive wall.
“We have defended very well,” Backe said. “There have been some strange goals, mostly from wide free kicks against us. When you have a wall and it goes through the wall, you can say of course that it’s a little bit sloppy, but overall I think when you look at corners and wide free kicks against us, it was OK.”
Unfortunately, that “OK” effort has cost the team points in the last four games.
2. The possession dilemma
New York held the ball for more than 62 percent of the match, keeping Colorado constantly chasing and on the defensive. But in the final third the Red Bulls stalled, unable to be decisive and breakdown a stout Rapids defensive shell. It was reminiscent of early April’s 1-0 loss in Philadelphia, where the Red Bulls were dominant on the ball but couldn’t convert their possession into scoring opportunities.
On Wednesday, the Red Bulls scored both of their goals in a six-minute span of the first half and then played a disjointed second half where they produced little in the way of chances.
“[In the] second half we couldn’t break them down,” Backe said. “Our passing game wasn’t good enough. I think we had two or three passes and then we lost the ball, so there was no rhythm in our attacking game. Of course it’s very difficult to break down teams that sit and go for breaks, and today, in the second half, we weren’t creative enough to break them down.”
3. Mendes keys the back line
A groin strain suffered last Saturday in the 2-2 draw in Houston shelved defender Rafa Márquez, who now leaves to join Mexico for the Gold Cup. While the team missed Márquez’s distribution and vision out of the back line, Carlos Mendes was a sure and steady fill-in for the Mexican national team captain. It was a simple, clean game for the back line as Colorado’s two goals came off of dead-ball situations.
“As a back line we were focused on keeping them out of the goal,” defender Tim Ream said, "just kind of winning balls and letting our midfield do their thing."
4. The mental game
After soaring to the top of the Eastern Conference two weeks ago, the Red Bulls are winless in their last four matches. The stretch of one loss and three ties comes as the team is set to lose more than half its starters to the Gold Cup by the end of this weekend. The Red Bulls, though, say they’re not in a bad place mentally.
“Obviously you want to win, of course,” forward Luke Rodgers said. “Everyone thinks it’s a concern, but it’s not as if we’re not scoring goals and we’re struggling that way. I think if the team can score goals you’re always going to win games. We just need to cut out stupid goals [conceded]. That’s all I can say, really.”
And with so many starters set to go missing, the Red Bulls will have to be resilient to keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer