Week 14: New England Revolution 0-2 New York Red Bulls

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

First win in MLS since May 4th; first win in New England since 2002: it was a good day for RBNY.

It all evens out over the course of a season.

The New York Red Bulls have had a few calls (nope, Mike Magee is STILL not onside) - and entire games (Hi there, DC!) - go against them this year. While there has been the odd bit of luck to offset the tide of misfortune (Sorry for your troubles, FC Dallas), generally speaking, 2014 has been the year karma struck back at RBNY for having the temerity to upset a perfectly good New-York-never-wins narrative last season.

I'm not saying the Red Bulls would be top of the league but for a blown call or two; but in addition to not very often being good, RBNY has very often not been lucky. Let the record show: in week 14, RBNY was very lucky indeed.


This was a game the Red Bulls were supposed to lose: no Henry, no Olave, no Cahill, no Miller, no McCarty; the Revs' dreadful pitch; the fact New England were scoring goals for fun against pretty much anyone who came to visit them at the abandoned carpet showroom they have mistaken for a soccer field; the fact RBNY was allowing anyone who felt like it to ping shots off Armando's shoulder past Luis Robles.

The only way any reasonable observer could conceive of anything other than a New England Revolution win from this match was for the Revs to have an off day, and for the Red Bulls to make uncharacteristically efficient use of whatever few chances fell their way. And that is what happened.

For 90 minutes, pretty much everything came up Red Bull.

Today is truly special   -Luis Robles (empireofsoccer.com)

Less than a minute in, Patrick Mullins slapped a shot at goal which Robles parried back into the six yard box. The rebound landed fortuitously in front of Matt Miazga, who hooked the ball out of harm's way. Phew!

In the 13th minute, a Chris Tierney free kick fizzed across the six yard box and was allowed to bounce in front of goal - but neither Rev nor Red Bull could get a touch. Yikes!

And then, in the 17th minute, even greater luck: a Lloyd Sam free kick to the far post hung long enough in the air to mesmerize Bobby Shuttleworth, who watched it so intently he walked straight into Andy Dorman, taking both of them out of action and leaving Eric Alexander unmarked. Even more extraordinarily, Alexander scored. 1-0 to RBNY.

This wasn't against the run of play, it was against all the things we thought we knew about these teams and the game of soccer.

We were lucky to get the first goal   -Luis Robles (bigapplesoccer.com)

The pattern of the match was established early: the Revolution's passing game is based around a mobile attacking quartet who know each other well and are ably supported by overlapping full backs on both flanks. The home team had most of the ball, and mostly kept it in RBNY's half.

For their part, the Red Bulls tried to get forward quickly whenever they could break the spell of New England's passing. You could call this a counter-attacking strategy, but it looked a lot like the only thing a makeshift, lopsided team could think to do whenever it had the ball.

The point of the game is to score a goal or two, so that's what RBNY tried to do - by whatever means appeared viable under the circumstances. For the most part, those circumstances were giving the ball to Peguy Luyindula and seeing what he thought might work.

Result notwithstanding, it wasn't a great lineup. On the left, RBNY pioneered a new tactic: the underlapping full back. Convey likes to cut in centrally, and Kimura is so right-sided he was often found stranded wide, moving backwards to find room for a cross from his one good foot. It might have been effective had it not been as puzzling to RBNY as it was to the Revs' defenders vainly looking for method to their opponents' madness.

On the right, Duvall and Lloyd Sam are still getting to know each other, and while both played well, they needed to play exceptionally to pick out Bradley Wright-Phillips, who seemed often overwhelmed by New England's back line.

RBNY had two things going for it consistently: Robles and Luyindula.

Amazing like always   -Peguy Luyindula on Luis Robles (bigapplesoccer.com)

As seems to be the case whenever the Red Bulls win a game this season, there would have been nothing to celebrate but for Robles. New England rained shots on RBNY's goal. They weren't all good shots, but Tierney's 24th minute rocket was going in but for the 'keeper; and Robles well to parry Teal Bunbury's 30th minute strike, and win a second-half one-on-one with Andrew Farrell.

Perhaps his best work, however, was in preventing the obligatory effort by his own team to deny him a clean sheet. It was the 70th minute, and the Red Bulls once again let a free kick bounce in the six yard box. Sekagya, who is a magnet for misfortune, stuck a leg out to clear and succeeded only in poking the ball back at goal. It takes extraordinary alertness and reflexes to make a living behind one of the league's least reliable defenses, and Robles demonstrated both in getting a hand to the ball.

Even then, as was the case for most of the match when the Revs were on goal (cf. Diego Fagundez's shot off the post in the 44th minute, and Lee Nguyen's 56th minute shot/cross which missed everything), there was a bit of luck. Robles had time to block the ball, but not control it: the rebound could have gone anywhere, and it just happened that anywhere was not a lurking Revolutionary.

I am a little concerned with how we gave up some of the opportunities we did   -Mike Petke (bigapplesoccer.com)

When they weren't hastily hacking away their 'keeper's desperate parries, the Red Bulls were heavily reliant on Luyindula for almost anything of consequence going forward. This was a match to almost make one believe the absence of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill is a price worth paying if it means Luyindula can play a central attacking midfield role.

He played deep (in the sense that the team sheet asked us to believe he was a forward), in the space allowed between BWP and Alexander. His signature move for this match was receiving the ball at his feet, waiting for the defender at his back, then turning into space, pulling Revs toward him and opening the passing lanes around him.

He is a difficult man to get the ball from, and a dangerous player to allow time and space. That combination challenges the wits more than physical abilities of a defender. Luyindula is not going to beat many players with strength or pace, but his mind is sharper than most in this league.

Peguy's crucial work in this regard didn't make the highlight reel, but on another day - one with Miller and Henry flying down the left, Cahill and BWP punching through the middle, Sam and Duvall working more effectively in tandem - he can run this team from the middle of the field.

I told them before the game that there were going to be periods tonight that were not going to be pretty   -Mike Petke(revolutionsoccer.net)

On this day, he was mainly the guy who calmed things down: bought a little time, kept the Revolution thinking about something other than how many ways it is possible to make Luis Robles sweat.

And, of course, he was the captain who scored the goal which sealed the game for RBNY.

The Red Bulls first goal had been fortunate, the second was opportunistic. A weak Farrell clearance got punted back into the box, Jose Goncalves got a little bit of himself to the ball and most of the rest of him all over Ibrahim Sekagya, resulting in an even weaker clearance. That ball popped up in front of Luyindula, who simply one-touched a shot at goal. The timing of the shot - quickly and decisively driven through a crowd of defenders - beat Shuttleworth more than power or placement.

The team does deserve great credit for bringing three points back from a place where neither MetroStar nor Red Bull had found a win since 2002. Mike Petke deserves credit for taking a chance on a young player - Matt Miazga made his first MLS start - in a game where less risk-averse coaches (We can agree Petke is a pretty conservative coach, right?) would have balked at fielding a rookie.

I think Matt did very well in his debut   -Mike Petke (bigapplesoccer.com)

Miazga took his chance well. He wasn't perfect, but he generally made good decisions and executed well. Even his yellow-card tackle was a smart choice: defending a narrow lead, you do what is necessary to shut down the break. We will likely see him again shortly, in RBNY's US Open Cup match with New York Cosmos, and he may be playing himself into an expanded role in the team's CONCACAF Champions League work later in the season.

But this was not a win to suggest the team has turned a corner. Since Petke took over, it has been a side modeled on playing within its limitations, finding the pragmatic route to victory if the pretty way is not available. And over-reliance on Robles is the defining feature of RBNY's occasional successes this season.

This is not a sustainable way to win games, as the team's mid-conference standing illustrates. But it is a way to win any particular game. That bodes well for a side presumed to be looking more to MLS Cup than Supporters' Shield this season.

Of course, to have a shot at MLS Cup, the team does need to pick up enough points to qualify for the playoffs. To that end, as in the post-season, the win is the only thing that matters.

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