Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quakes Rally Twice as Red Bulls Settle for Draw

McCarty Celebrates His First New York Goal With Ballouchy
The New York Red Bulls had managed to get through the first five games of the current season without a single draw, after settling for sixteen stalemates in 2011. With Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper in terrific goal-scoring form, it has simply been impossible for opponents to match New York's production. Yes, the Red Bulls porous back line still has yet to keep a clean sheet, but if you can score four or five goals a match you can afford to be less than airtight at the other end, right? Well, not quite...

The problem, of course, is that sooner or later RBNY is bound to run into an opponent that knows how to defend, or hit a goalscoring drought. Eventually, they'll need their defense to step up if they want to be considered among MLS' elite teams. Through six weeks of the 2012 season, there have been precious few signs that the Red Bulls have resolved the defensive problems that plagued them in 2011. Some of the names may have changed, but they still have a nasty habit of surrendering leads, falling victim to poor organization, and losing concentration at key moments. Such was the case on Saturday against San Jose Earthquakes, as the Red Bulls went ahead twice in the first half, only to get pegged back both times and settle for a 2-2 draw.

After Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper combined to get RBNY off to another flying start, it looked as though there might be another pasting in the cards, but the Quakes responded quickly. After Dax McCarty was stripped of the ball in midfield, Rafael Baca made a smart run behind the Red Bulls' defense. Not a single New York player tracked him, and when Khari Stephenson slid a pass across the top of the eighteen yard box, Baca had the easiest of finishes.

McCarty would atone for his turnover just eight minutes later, putting the Red Bulls up 2-1 with a sweet, swiveled finish after some nifty dribbling down the right flank by Dane Richards. But San Jose continued to work hard and were rewarded for their efforts when a long cross to Ryan Meara's back post from Steven Beitashour found Shea Salinas. Salinas was able to dink a pass over two Red Bulls defenders to Chis Wondolowski, who headed it home. Why Stephen Keel abandoned a deadly goalscorer like Wondolowski, with Salinas well covered, is anyone's guess.

Though Keel and Holgersson share much of the blame for San Jose's two goals, other Red Bulls aren't entirely blameless either. Rafa Marquez put in another plodding, lazy performance and was lucky not to be sent off for his classless rugby tackle and kick against Salinas that broke the San Jose player's collarbone and may yet draw disciplinary action from the league. To be fair, Marvin Chavez's two footed lunge from behind on Roy Miller was equally deserving of a red. (Were San Jose players seriously arguing that a yellow wasn't warranted for Chavez? Come on, guys).

After plenty of action in the first 45 minutes, the second half was pretty turgid, with few good chances for either side. A low effort by Henry was easily corralled by Jon Busch, while Ryan Meara had a bit more work to do at his end. The most exciting thing that happened after halftime was the post-match fireworks display.

While a 2-2 draw against what looks to be a decent San Jose side isn't a horrible result for the Red Bulls, it does put them further adrift of Eastern Conference-leading Kansas City, who eked out another tight win over Real Salt Lake and have now earned maximum points through six games - four at home and two away. If Kansas City aren't setting the scoreboard alight or giving us highlight reel material, they are doing something that the Red Bulls can't seem to manage: keeping clean sheets. They've only surrendered a single goal, while New York has now let in ten.

With Teemu Tainio already out for several weeks, Wilman Conde on the shelf with a groin injury, Juan Agudelo still recovering, and Marquez facing a potential ban, a Red Bulls squad that looked pretty formidable on paper at the start of the season is suddenly a little threadbare. Many were wondering why the Red Bulls acquired Victor Pálsson in the offseason when they already appeared to have a surplus of options in midfield. But the Icelander may be Hans Backe's best option for the time being.

The Red Bulls next travel to Washington on Sunday to play D.C. United, before returning home to face New England Revolution - two vital conference games.
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