The central attacking midfielder the New York Red Bulls have reportedly been searching for in the off-season seemingly mistook Canada for the United States. Newly signed designated player, Pedro Morales, made an impressive debut off the bench with an assist and goal, leading the Vancouver Whitecaps to a 4-1 victory against RBNY.
The defeat comes following a preseason full of optimism for the Red Bulls after retaining their core players that won the Supporters Shield in 2013. The result for Vancouver marks the first ever win for head coach Carl Robinson, who played briefly for New York from 2010 to 2011.
RBNY starting lineup: Luis Robles; Richard Eckersley, Armando Lozano, Ibrahim Sekagya, Bobby Convey; Lloyd Sam, Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, Jonny Steele; Peguy Luyindula, Tim Cahill
The favorite 4-4-2 formation under head coach Mike Petke made an uneasy return in the season opener. Central midfielders Dax McCarty and Eric Alexander were exposed and outnumbered in the middle third countless times.
Often times, the Red Bulls’ midfield resembled a five versus two warm-up. The four Vancouver attackers repeatedly tucked inside to form triangular passing options with defensive midfielders, Nigel Reo-Coker and Matias Laba.
The first chance of the game occurred in the 4th minute, coming off one of the aforementioned midfield overload. Right-winger Russel Teibert exploited space behind McCarty and Alexander. The young Canadian international received a pass, turned and unleashed a left-footed shot that Robles parried away.
In the 11th minute, the Red Bulls almost converted their first chance. An Alexander driven ball to Peguy Luyindula’s feet resulted in a slightly, accidental flick that found newly-dubbed two-way winger, Lloyd Sam. The Englishman’s run in a central channel gave him enough space to see his nearside shot pushed out of the corner by goalkeeper David Ousted.
Vancouver’s next best chances fell to Jamaican striker, Darren Mattocks, in quick succession around the 16th and 17th minute marks. A Laba through ball found a Mattocks’s run on the left. The play ended with a weak toe poke right at Robles. One minute later, the Jamaican, after quick passes with Sebastian Fernandez, found space in the box to see his weak shot saved low to Robles’s left.
All of the sustained pressure by the home side’s four interchanging attackers gave witness to the opening goal in the 33rd minute. Following a corner clearance, a Laba strong shot at the 18 was deflected off the arm of New York defender Richard Eckersley. The referee pointed to the spot.
Forward Kenny Miller sent Robles the wrong way, slotting a shot into the low right corner. The scoreline read 1-0 to Vancouver, and the floodgates were slowly opened.
A right-footed shot that missed just wide by left back Bobby Convey was the last response for New York in the first half. Within three minutes of the restart, Vancouver scored the second goal.
Sebastian Fernandez, the young Uruguayan attacker, capitalized on a four versus four breakaway. Miller released Mattocks in the left channel with a long ball. Fernandez received the ball from the Jamaican on the 18, hesitated, dropped his shoulder and shot a laser into the top right hand corner. Robles almost made a miraculous save, however the scoreboard now read 2-0.
The Red Bulls almost responded in the 53rd minute. Alexander played Sam into space on the right side of the box. A cross into the six yard box was bizarrely glanced wide by Tim Cahill. The Australian international appeared to have a clear opportunity to score.
A few half-chances by New York never made substantial threats against the Vancouver back-line led by former US international Jay Demerit. A lull in scoring was significantly altered with the introduction of Chilean play-maker, Morales, in the 64th minute.
Only 10 minutes were required for the former La Liga player to impact the game. A New York corner was cleared to Morales who had time and space to pass a long through ball onto a Miller run. Confusion about whether to play the Vancouver striker offside or track his run, led the Red Bulls back-line to do nothing. Miller allowed the ball to bounce on the anti-Henry turf and looped the ball over Robles.
Morales certainly took advantage of his limited time on the field. A mere 10 minutes later, the Chilean attacker opened his Major League Soccer goal scoring account. English veteran Reo-Coker did well to drive past a few players on the right side of the box. A cut-back found Morales at the top of the box, and he finished first time into the bottom left corner.
Petke probably did not envision a 4-0 defeat in the first game. Innocuously, the Red Bulls pulled a goal back when substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips glanced a header over Ousted into the side netting. Lloyd Sam assisted with a high cross.
Much fanfare was made about the standard absentees of center back Jamison Olave and forward Thierry Henry. However, conceding four goals after having a whole preseason to prepare for one game, is discouraging.
Having said that, the first half saw bright passives of control from the Red Bulls, which led to some chances. The chemistry the whole team preached about keeping the core players was, at times, visibly noticeable (except in defense). Hopefully, New York can rebound in their home opener on March 15 versus the Colorado Rapids.
- Did anyone see Jonny Steele’s “showboat” moment? Surprisingly, that confident touch in the opening minutes came before two or three poor ones on routine plays. This was not a great start for Steele’s 2014 season, and he admitted so afterwards. The Northern Irishman said on Twitter, “Nothin to say about that performance ain’t never felt this bad bout how shit I played in 5 years! Back to hard work and grindin #WakeUpCall.”
- Armando enjoyed a positive first half performance. His long balls out of the back found Cahill up top on multiple occasions, and once, even led to a corner. The Spanish center back also intercepted passes into the Vancouver forwards’ feet, successfully stopping potentially dangerous plays. Most notably, Armando prevented Mattocks from a breakaway in the 35th minute. His second half left more to be desired. The whole back-line was practically exposed for the second goal, so he was part of a collective blame. On the third and fourth goals, however, Armando appeared to give up on the plays. He nonchalantly tried the offside trap on Miller’s goal and then stood watching Morales slot in the fourth. More passion and fight is required from the newcomer.
- The other debutantes of Eckersley and Convey had polar opposite performances. Eckersley was obviously at fault for the penalty, and television analyst, Shep Messing, said he would rather have the English right back “step up and get beat rather than get caught flat footed” on the Fernandez goal. On the left side, Convey had a relatively anonymous game, which is not necessarily a detraction for a defender. His best moment came on the run forward and missed shot. Other than that, and after a switch to midfield, he did little. For a World Cup and MLS veteran, more production is expected eventually.
- Cahill held the ball up well in his striking position, but he had little service to make an impact. His one chance in the six yard box should have been on frame. Some suggest that he is most effective in midfield making late runs into the box. The forward experiment should be tested further though.
- Compared to McCarty, Alexander excelled at center midfield. McCarty was simply overrun by the four Vancouver attackers constantly dropping into the middle third to connect passes. Besides a few astray passes, Alexander consistently provided an outlet for the wings and distributed the ball well. With Sam capitalizing on the space he is receiving on the right, Alexander should remain in the center of the park in the near future. His customary two-way winger position is not required at the moment.
- Not only did the turf surface deprive New York of their two stalwarts, it also fueled the fast-pace game that Vancouver wished to play. Mattocks, Miller and Fernandez took turns running the outside channels, latching onto long balls to drag the defense out of shape. The Red Bulls could not cope.
- Ruben Bover’s eye-catching preseason (two goals) does not appear to be an anomaly again like it did in 2013. He had no turnovers and distributed the ball well with assured touches and passes during his 10 minute cameo. Bover will surely earn a start soon if Steele’s struggles remain.