The New York Red Bulls commemorated their Support Shield banner unveiling with a victory — almost. Party scenes at Red Bull Arena were spoiled after the Colorado Rapids controversially earned a point with a 1-1 draw in Harrison, N.J.
In the second half, head coach Mike Petke saw his side take the lead on a Thierry Henry header. However, shortly after, Colorado equalized with a debatable penalty. Vincente Sanchez scored to steal a point on the road for newly-appointed, rookie head coach Pablo Mastroeni.
Luckily for Petke, homes sides dropping points to an opposite conference team was a consistent theme in Major League Soccer this past weekend. Seattle, Kansas City and Portland all lost or drew versus teams they were favorite to win against.
An approximate 60 percent advantage in possession gave witness to sustained pressure by the home side in the first 15 minutes. The first chance occurred within the second minute. Newly-dubbed two-way winger, Lloyd Sam, played a ball out wide to Henry, who, in turn, crossed low to Bradley Wright-Phillips. His sliding effort at the near post was deflected just wide.
On 16 minutes, Colorado winger Dillon Serna saw a curling, back-post effort saved by Luis Robles in goal after sloppy defense by the Red Bulls gifted him space. Serna’s ensuing corner found defender Drew Moor on the back-post, whose downward header was flicked toward goal by Spanish midfielder Jose Mari. Robles, once again, was agile across his line to save New York.
The next two best chances again were created by the Rapids in a half where they recorded a 12 to four shot advantage. Serna, 19, appearing in only his second ever game, had another open shot cutting onto his left foot saved. He had the beating of left back Roy Miller on multiple occasions.
Soon after, Nick Labrocca, an alum from nearby Rutgers University, unleashed a left-footed shot destined for the upper corner that was tipped over by an impressive Robles. The longtime MLS play-maker somehow kept his shot on target from approximately 40 yards away from goal.
Not wanting viewers to mistake Labrocca for the most audacious player, Henry tried his own long range effort. A driven ball from halfway sailed wide of rookie John Berner’s goal. The first half ended scoreless.
In the second period, the Red Bulls capitalized on a 68 percent possession advantage between the 51-55 minute interval to score the opener. A Sam cross from the right flew over Cahill and the Colorado defenders to find a wide-open Henry at the back-post for a diving header. Central defender Drew Moor was pulled out of the position on the play, which led to the easy finish for the Frenchman in the 56 minute.
New York nearly went two goals ahead after Wright-Phillips cut inside past a few defenders. Henry took over control and played a splitting pass to Sam, whose chip over a rushing Berner went wide on 68 minutes.
Possession advantage for Colorado within the 60-70 minute period, following the introduction of attackers Sanchez and Marvin Chavez, led the away side to find an equalizer. The two substitutes combined as Sanchez lofted a ball to Chavez. Standing just inside the box, the Honduran winger backed into defender Jamison Olave and easily fell over.
The replacement referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. Sanchez remained cool despite the stadium’s jeers and slotted the penalty low to Robles’s left. The Red Bulls goalie was inches away from tipping the ball. Nonetheless, the scoreboard now read 1-1.
Late introductions of Eric Alexander and Peguy Luyindula contributed to a few more opportunities, particularly in the five minutes of stoppage time awarded for Colorado’s simulation and time-wasting tactics.
Most notably, Alexander had the best break at a game-winner. A calm and collected Armando, venturing forward from his central defensive position, chested down a ball in the box. His lay-off found the two-way winger, who had a first-time, curling effort go wide. The match ended 1-1, and the Red Bulls were left contemplating how they did not record their first win of the season.
- The fullback situation is in flux. Richard Eckersley’s struggles were well documented from last week, but one would think Roy Miller at left back is fine now, given his solid 2013 season. However, the infamous gaffes that characterized his early career in New York appeared to return as he made two or three mistakes in dangerous areas. He specifically made poor clearances in the 12 and 42 minutes, respectively, that put the defense under pressure. Luckily, his team did not concede in those situations. As an offensive threat, the Costa Rican left back made his trademark overlapping runs to great effect. Convey received the start in Vancouver, so perhaps, Petke is searching for a more defensively reliable fullback.
- On the other side of defense, Eckersley put in a decent performance to bounce back from his unfortunate debut in Canada. He got forward well and generally handled his defensive responsibilities. However, the speed of Brown and trickiness of the Rapids’s attackers, led viewers to worry the English defender was always on the verge of a mistake.
- A microcosm of New York’s ineffectiveness offensively occurred in the 13 minute. The aforementioned Eckersley was on the right touchline. With two Colorado players in front of him and no layoff, he almost lost possession. His hands went up in frustration as he was forced to challenge his man 1v1 (not his strong-suit) as three New York players stood waiting in the box for a cross. Keep in mind, this happened in the 13 minute at 0-0 and not in the 89 minute trailing at 2-1 or 3-1. More patience and build-up is required, especially at home.
- Bobby Convey was anonymous on the left two-way wing. His performance resembled Alexander’s early one-way, defensive wide-midfield efforts at the beginning of last year. The difference between them though is that Convey is an aging veteran who succumbed to serious injuries that deprived him of his dynamism. His one opportunity came in the 47 minute with a shot that trickled wide. The one-time World Cup player for the US combined well with Miller, but his best position for New York this season might be to fill in for the left back.
- Speaking of a lack of dynamism by wingers, Alexander and Steele also put in mostly ineffectual performances in their substitute appearances. On many occasions, costly let-downs in concentration and first touches led to breakdown of plays and momentum. Convey, Alexander and Steele are all better suited offensively in central positions. Unfortunately in a 4-4-2 formation, their chances of playing alongside McCarty or Cahill is limited.
- Why did Petke wait so long to introduce Luyindula? And why did he deem Sam expendable to the late charge for a game-winner? For 80 minutes, Sam was consistently the most dangerous player for New York on the right. With reports of increased fitness, could he have lasted a further 15 minutes? One can wonder whether the moments Alexander had would have been capitalized on by the English winger. In addition, Luyindula for BWP at an earlier juncture would have gave the Red Bulls an extended time with an individual capable of dictating play. Instead, his substitution in the 85 minute came after constant long balls in the box when surely more composure was needed.
- Cahill was also practically anonymous besides a few nice touches to relieve pressure in his half and some long balls to the strikers. After impressing in preseason alongside Henry at forward, he may deserve more opportunities up top.
- The central defensive tandems for both sides performed admirably. Armando and Olave have the look of a solid core that could eventually match the renewed and longtime partnership of Drew Moor and Marvel Wynne for Colorado.
- Nick Labrocca is a play-maker that New York should have pursued years ago after his All-Star year for Chivas USA in 2011. The Staten Island native’s creativity in the center of the park would have benefited a stale New York attack. Sometimes the administration’s visions of signing high-profile attackers from Europe leads them to ignore local American players with enough talent and MLS “know-how” to succeed.