A month that started with the New York Red Bulls top of the Eastern Conference, on a three-game winning streak, and with the joint-best defense in Major League Soccer ended without a win as the Red Bulls drew their third game in a row, away to the Vancouver Whitecaps, and fell behind the Philadelphia in the East. New York has gone five games without a win or a clean sheet, taken just four points from a possible fifteen, and given up nine goals in that stretch.
Hans Backe made two changes to the team that drew with Colorado on Wednesday; Juan Agudelo replaced the injured Thierry Henry and Stephen Keel came in for Mehdi Ballouchy, who could not travel to Vancouver due to visa issues. However, Backe did not place Agudelo at striker alongside Luke Rodgers, preferring to move Dwayne De Rosario up top, shift Joel Lindpere to the more attacking central midfield slot, and place Agudelo on the left wing. Jan Gunnar Solli moved into right midfield, Carlos Mendes took his spot at right back, and Keel came in at centerback.
The Red Bulls started the game without any particular purpose or drive about their play, and the best chances they had early on came through a long solo counterattack from Luke Rodgers, who shot narrowly wide of the far post, and a powerful drive from Solli, whose effort from just outside the penalty area went narrowly over the crossbar.
Vancouver looked the more threatening of the two sides in the early minutes and had the ball in the net on 16 minutes, but the assistant referee's flag was up and the goal was disallowed for offside. Just a few minutes later, the Whitecaps did find their opener, as Eric Hassli hammered in a penalty past Greg Sutton after Mendes clipped Camilo Sanvezzo just inside the area; it was the third spot-kick the Red Bulls have conceded in as many games.
New York didn't look much like an equalizer until Luke Rodgers conjured one up from another quick counterattack. A crossfield ball from Roy Miller found Solli on the edge of the Vancouver penalty area; he mis-hit a shot that would have gone wide, but Rodgers re-directed it into the back of the net for his fifth goal of the season. The Red Bulls almost took the lead just five minutes later, as a spectacular distance strike from Lindpere was pushed over the bar by Jay Nolly.
Nolly wasn't troubled much in the waning minutes of the first half, or the early part of the second. Sutton had plenty to do at the other end, taking the ball off the toe of Davide Chiumiento and then making a great leg save from Hassli in the first fifteen minutes after the interval.
The Red Bulls did not create a clear chance in the second half, and were limited to a series of long-range -- though dangerous -- shots. Matt Kassel, Roy Miller, and Dwayne De Rosario all went close from distance, but New York wasn't able to find a winner, even though Hans Backe made two substitutions before the 70th minute, giving Austin da Luz and Kassel their MLS debuts, and then sent on Corey Hertzog in the penultimate minute of normal time.
New York has a full week off to mull over their terrible May before the Columbus Crew visit Red Bull Arena next Saturday night, but they will face up to that game without Tim Ream, Agudelo, and De Rosario, who all depart for the Gold Cup this week. The difficult month of May is behind them, but the Red Bulls will need significant improvement from their fringe players to actually turn around their form.
Selected Statistics (NY-Vancouver)
Passing Accuracy: 74%-72%
Total Passes: 498-393
Open Play Crosses: 18-13
Fouls Committed: 13-9
Shots (On Goal): 15(3)-9(2)