Sunday, June 5, 2011

Red Bulls 1 Columbus 1: Meltdown!

At Least the Supporters Showed Up (photo courtesy of Chris Kyak)
Brutal. That's the only word you can use to describe the feeling of having your team throw away two desperately-needed points in stoppage time. 20,000+ Red Bulls fans left Harrison last night with a bitter taste in their mouths following yet another disappointing draw, following a late, late injury time equalizer by the Crew's Rich Balchan. Once again there are some hard questions that need to be asked of Hans Backe's substitution policy, the depth of the Red Bulls bench and the team's mental fortitude at crunch time.

An early goal by (yes) Mehdi Ballouchy, from a fantastic set-up by (who else?) Luke Rodgers put the Red Bulls in the driver's seat, but once again they could not make the most of their chances in the opening half and were kept off the score sheet for the remainder of the game. RBNY again came out flat from the locker room to start the second half, and Columbus was only held at bay by some good goalkeeping by Greg Sutton and some comically bad finishing by the horrid Andres Mendoza.

Then, deep into the two minutes of stoppage time, Columbus was somehow able to mount a counterattack. Justin Meram blew past Matt Kassel, who was deputizing at right back for the injured Jan-Gunnar Solli. Balchan found himself unmarked in the 18 yard box and one timed a low shot into the corner past Sutton. It was an unconscionable goal to give up so late in the game, with a 1-0 lead at home and in desperate need of the full three points. So many questions can be asked about this goal from a Red Bulls perspective. Here are just a few:
  • Why did Hans Backe refuse to kill some time by using one of his two remaining substitutions? His stubborn refusal to use tactical substitutions has now cost this team several points at home. 
  • Does Backe have any faith at all in players like Rooney, Paullo and Lassiter, or is the RBNY bench only an inch deep?
  • Why did the Red Bulls commit so many players forward when all they had to do was protect their lead and put ten behind the ball?
  • Is Matt Kassel any kind of right back? Beaten repeatedly at an unfamiliar position, he is a poor substitute for Solli, whose fitness the team must now be sweating.
  • Does Roy Miller have the ability to mark anyone? His main defensive talent seems to be standing around looking helpless as the goals fly in.
  • What in the world was Carlos Mendes doing? Nowhere near any Crew player.
I could go on. The Columbus game now joins the 2009 DC debacle in my personal pantheon of great Red Bull late game meltdowns. Hopefully it won't be the beginning of a 2009-like death spiral, but with just one more home game (Friday night against New England) before a four game death march out west - and deprived of key players on Gold Cup duty - things could get a lot uglier before they get better. In his post-game report,'s Kristian Dyer hardly paints the portrait of a harmonious locker room. It's going to take some doing for Backe to turn things around.

RBNY has now drawn more than half its games this season and is winless in nearly six weeks. The only saving grace is that draws seem to be a dime a dozen in MLS this year. Toronto, Chicago, Colorado and Vancouver have also drawn seven, with several teams on six. Philadelphia, who had a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Red Bulls last night, could only manage a 1-1 in Colorado. But for the Red Bulls what was once a run at the Supporter's Shield has now become a fight just to hold onto one of ten playoff spots. Those of us - me included - who complained about the expansion of the MLS playoffs to ten clubs may have to re-evaluate our feelings if the Red Bulls end up slipping into the post-season through the back door.

Viper will be along later with his video report, but before I go just a brief word of praise for the Red Bulls support. Many were wondering where the RBNY fans were early in the season, but they are turning out in force in recent weeks and the atmosphere inside the stadium has been absolutely buzzing. And it's not just inside. Though I missed the pre-game march-in, our GSS compatriot Chris Kyak was kind enough to provide us with some amazing photos from the Jackson Street Bridge as the three main supporters clubs converged on Harrison with multiple flares and smoke. Thanks Chris! That is beautiful to see!
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