The New York Red Bulls suffered their first home defeat of the season on Sunday night, falling 3-2 to Chivas USA after a horrendous defensive display. The Red Bulls twice came back from a goal down, first through Thierry Henry and then via a Dwayne De Rosario penalty, but Justin Braun's hat-trick proved too much for New York, who lost their first game in over a month.
Hans Backe made just one change to the Red Bulls side that drew 1-1 with the Los Angeles Galaxy last weekend, as fit-again Teemu Tainio returned to the midfield in place of Mehdi Ballouchy. Although the starting XI was identical to the team that reeled off three successive victories against the San Jose Earthquakes, DC United, and Sporting Kansas City, the Red Bulls had trouble dealing with Chivas' aggressive pressing straight from the kickoff, which was delayed because of a power outage at Red Bull Arena.
As the pressure from Chivas disrupted the Red Bulls when they had the ball, the visitors' attack provided plenty of problems for New York as well. Particularly troublesome were their directness and pace. Chivas did not simply play long balls, it was the combination of a quick transition from defense to attack with the speed of their forward line proved difficult for the Red Bulls' backline to manage.
The first goal came from a combination of that pressing, directness, and pace. Braun, helping out just outside of his own box, closed down Tainio, causing him to give the ball away to Ben Zemanski. From there, Chivas moved from just outside of their penalty area to the edge of the Red Bulls' box with two passes in ten seconds, Braun received the ball outside the right corner of the box, and sped around Jan Gunnar Solli before lashing a curling effort past Bouna Coundoul to put the visitors ahead.
Chivas were definitely in the ascendancy after taking the lead and could have doubled their lead, but the Red Bulls pulled themselves back into the game. Dwayne De Rosario had a nice long-range effort go narrowly wide, and Joel Lindpere slipped and scuffed his shot when he was one-on-one with Dan Kennedy. The Red Bulls pulled level shortly after on the simplest of moves: Rafael Márquez played a long ball over the top for Henry to run onto, the Frenchman took a pair of touches and blasted in to level the scores and notch his fifth goal of the season.
New York looked far more dangerous after equalizing, but just 10 minutes later they went behind again. Heath Pearce sent in a free kick from about 40 yards out towards the back post, Ante Jazic kept the ball from going out, and Braun stabbed in from close range for his second of the game. The ball should have been cleared before Braun was allowed to shoot, at the very least one of the defenders needed to slide and and try to block it out of play, and Coundoul should have done better -- he was beaten through his legs right next to the post.
In spite of their defensive mistakes, the Red Bulls were again level four minutes later. Henry, on the left wing, played a low ball into the box for Luke Rodgers; he was pushed over in the box by Pearce, and Alex Prus pointed to the spot. De Rosario stepped up to take the penalty and blasted it into the top corner with power, scoring his first goal as a Red Bull on his 33rd birthday and pulling New York back to 2-2.
The Red Bulls had a few set piece opportunities in the waning minutes of the first half, but Henry fired into the side netting and De Rosario's header from the back post area was pushed away by Kennedy.
That momentum carried over through halftime, as Dane Richards nearly put New York ahead four minutes after the re-start with a shot from just right of the D, and Rodgers failed to play the Jamaican in from the edge of the box shortly after. The Red Bulls came to rue those misses on 56 minutes, when they were again punished for slack set piece defending. Simon Elliott lofted a free-kick in from Chivas' left, Alejandro Moreno, who was unmarked, headed the ball against the post, and it bounced along the goal line for Braun to tap in at the other upright for his hat-trick. The Red Bulls left four Chivas players totally unmarked in the box and were made to pay for it.
New York gained a bit of traction in their attacks after going behind for a third time, but failed to create any good chances in front of goal. They had plenty of opportunities to get something from set pieces, but the deliveries were poor and New York could not generate shots on goal. Chivas were able to sit back and the Red Bulls enjoyed much more possession, but even the introduction of Juan Agudelo -- and the late entrance of Stephen Keel as an auxiliary striker -- failed to produce an equalizer.
What was called a "trap game" by many Red Bulls fans and watchers turned out to be just that. New York is still top of the Eastern Conference, but just a point ahead of the Philadelphia Union, while in the overall table the Red Bulls trail the Los Angeles Galaxy by five points with three games in hand. The Red Bulls have a week off before traveling down to Robertson Stadium to take on the Houston Dynamo next Saturday night.
Selected Stats (NY-Chivas)
Passing Accuracy: 73%-68%
Total Passes: 363-245
Open Play Crosses: 32-8
Fouls Committed: 11-17
Shots (On Goal): 10(4)-9(5)