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Depleted New York Red Bulls Earn Draw With Columbus Crew

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Tony Tchani played well....except for his final ball. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Tony Tchani played well....except for his final ball. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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A New York Red Bulls side that featured six enforced changes from opening day managed to take a point away against the Columbus Crew for the first time since 2007 after a 0-0 draw Saturday afternoon at Crew Stadium. The Red Bulls' side included newly-signed goalkeeper Alex Horwath, who was making his professional debut, Luke Rodgers, who played in his first MLS gamed, and Red Bulls debutant Stephen Keel. While the Red Bulls' team against Columbus was largely made up of second- or third-choice players, they performed fairly well (albeit against a poor Crew side) and created a few chances to win the game in the final minutes.

The most impressive of the new Red Bulls was Horwath, who started in goal just a day after joining the Red Bulls. Greg Sutton suffered a concussion that ruled him out of the game against Columbus, so Horwath was dropped in the deep end for his first game as a professional. Despite his inexperience, the former University of Wisconsin 'keeper looked confident in goal and deserves a fair amount of credit for the clean sheet: he made the saves he should have, communicated with the defense, and won the ball when he came to claim it.

New York's patchwork defense was also surprisingly solid. Instead of moving into the middle as expected, Roy Miller continued at left back, while Stephen Keel and Carlos Mendes took up the two centerback spots with Jan Gunnar Solli again at right back. Keel looked shaky at times, but won almost all of the aerial balls near him and made some good tackles. Solli was not great getting forward from fullback and did get caught out up the pitch a few times; while he put in a fair shift overall, Chris Albright's return cannot come soon enough. Mendes, captain for the day in the absence of Thierry Henry, was also fairly good, although the Red Bulls benefited from a decent slice of luck in keeping Columbus from scorling.

After a very early flurry of New York attacks that nearly saw the visitors ahead inside of two minutes, Columbus gradually took control of the game and tried to dictate a quicker tempo. However, a combination of indecision and good Red Bulls defending prevented them from taking the lead before halftime. The Crew found some success when they spread the play across the width of the pitch, but Andres Mendoza was extremely wasteful in front of goal.

Although the Red Bulls were on the back foot for much of the match and sorely lacking in offensive firepower, midfield dynamos Joel Lindpere and Tony Tchani tried to provide some attacking thrust. Luke Rodgers did not have much success as a lone striker (Mehdi Ballouchy was supposed to be alongside him but continually dropped deeper into midfield and disappeared), and only began to show the pace for which he is known in the later stages of the game. He is patently not effective as a one-man frontline, although a pairing with Thierry Henry or Juan Agudelo could yet yield better results.

As it was the players New York did have available proved fairly dangerous: Lindpere had a pair of good shots from just inside the box that could have produced a winner, and when Corey Hertzog, a more natural lone striker than Rodgers, came on in the final minutes the Red Bulls nearly pinched all three points after his strong run down the inside left channel.

Stephen Keel also had a free header from a corner kick float wide of goal in the first half, and Tony Tchani troubled Will Hesmer with a powerful hit after dribbling from just outside his own penalty area. Unfortunately, Tchani was not nearly as effective in his final balls as he was in winning the ball, beating defenders, and passing short -- all of his crosses were whacked far to high and long for any Red Bulls players to threaten Hesmer's goal.

Overall, it was a good result for a badly weakened Red Bulls team. They played reasonably well in spite of the many absences, Alex Horwath had a very good debut, and New York is one of only two MLS teams yet to concede a goal.