It's difficult to look at Sunday's 1-1 draw in Chicago and think the Red Bulls are heating up, especially in a match played in frigid conditions. But for a team that was self-critical in its first two matches of the year - a loss in Vancouver and home draw with Colorado - Sunday's match was another sign that the Red Bulls are progressing.
"I feel like we're not satisfied with just a point, but I think we're satisfied with our peformance," said midfielder Dax McCarty after the match. "It's a lot better than it was the first two games; I think we defended better as a team and I think we attacked a lot better than we have in the past two games. Overall a very improved perforamance than the other two."
Head coach Mike Petke agreed.
"I was very, very happy," Petke said. "Very happy and satisfied with our effort and the way we started the game and played throughout, to be honest. It's something that really we havent seen over the last few games. Their effort, their mindset, if you will, was good. We had an opportunity tonight, and I think we should have had three points. But Chicago fought hard as well, so we walk out of here with a point. But it's a very positive step in the right direction."
The temperature at kickoff was 28 degrees, and it got colder for the Red Bulls quickly when Chicago's Jeff Larentowicz found himself unmarked in the box to head in a corner kick in just the sixth minute.
"It's obviously a tough place to come and play and we put ourselved in a whole early - off a set piece," said McCarty. "You never want to do that, but I thought our response was really well."
And it was McCarty who got the Red Bulls back in the match in the 21st minute when he got on the end of a lose ball off a corner kick to level with his first goal of the season. The 5'9" midfielder has had a knack for scoring goals either on headers or set pieces inside the box throughout his MLS career.
"It's just a mentality, honestly, when you're going on set pieces," he said of his success rate at scoring similar goals. "You have to attack the ball; obviously you have to have a little bit of luck, and I think today it was a little bit of luck involved. I found myself in a good spot - right place at the right time - the ball popped out to me.
"I'm obviously not one of the biggest guys on the field, but it's just a mentality. You just have to attack the ball, you have to want to score goals, and luckily my coaches have faith in me to put me in the box in those situations. I'm going to try to keep being a pest and keep being dangerous on set pieces."
Petke was also pleased with the team's response after surrendering the early goal.
"It's one of those things when you're on the road after having chances yourself, and you hope that they have the right mentality to lift themselves," Petke said. "And they certainly did. The biggest thing for me was our balance today, which is what we haven't seen a lot from preseason to now. We seemed like one team from front to back, instead of a team of a group of six and a group of four. It was a good response."
Match statistics show the Red Bull's controlled the bulk of the play, with New York dominated possession by a 60-40 percent clip, completing 447 total passes compared to Chicago's 297.
"To be honest it was a game that I thought, if we would have gotten a lucky bounce here or there, maybe if the field was a little bit better, we would have been able to put a couple of our players through on goal and we could've nicked a game-winner at the end. But overall I think we're satisfied," McCarty added.
Despite still seeking their first win of the season, the team has no reason to panic.
"Naturally we're optimistic," said goalkeeper Luis Robles. "We know we have the talent and the personnel to do that. We look at last year and it's good example that it's not necessarily how you start - it's a marathon more than a sprint. But the encouraging thing is the way that we're playing. We know that eventually we're going to create those chances and we're going to be dangerous in the final third. That will come - that's not something we're worried about at all."