This is the first time this season I have to write one of those match reports, and hopefully they will be few and far between in 2011 and beyond.
The New York Red Bulls went down a 1-0 defeat against the Phildelphia Union at PPL Park on Saturday night as Roger Torres' first MLS goal was enough to give the hosts victory. New York performed below expectations and have scored just two goals in their first four games of the 2011 season despite appearing to have the most potent attack in MLS.
Hans Backe made just one change to the Red Bulls side that drew 1-1 with the Houston Dynamo last week, as Dwayne De Rosario replaced the disappointing Mehdi Ballouchy at the forward point of a 4-4-2 diamond. While the Red Bulls showed plenty of intent going forward throughout the match, Philadelphia set out with a much more defensive attitude and seemed to be looking for a point.
The game was a sloppy affair lacking in much quality either from the players or the officials. The Union left large gaps between their midfielders and the backline (which the Red Bulls did not fully exploit), New York had a fair number of wayward passes, and Alex Prus continued to exemplify the torrid standard of refereeing in Major League Soccer.
The last of these bears a bit more examination, because Prus seemed cowed by the rowdy Philadelphia crowd. He booked Rafael Márquez inside a quarter of an hour for absolutely no reason (he didn't even give a foul to the Union), Dane Richards earned a yellow card for a soft foul in midfield, and at one point what his linesman flagged as a free kick to Philadelphia became a throw-in instead.
As for the Red Bulls, they had enough chances to win the game: Juan Agudelo hit the woodwork twice (the first time Thierry Henry should have pounced on the rebound, thanks to bigbluethruandthru for pointing that out) and the Red Bulls failed to threaten off any of their corners or free-kicks from dangerous positions (continuing a worrying trend this season).
Although Agudelo could have scored at least one, Thierry Henry bears a fair amount of the blame for New York's failure to find the back of the net. Yet again he lacked the drive to chase rebounds and the clarity of mind to go for the simple rather than constantly trying the spectacular, including another inexplicable overhead kick attempt when going for the header would have been easier and probably more effective. Dane Richards was disappointing as well for New York: he really seems to miss having Chris Albright behind him to play chipped passes for Richards to chase.
Despite New York's problems in front of goal, the Red Bulls still could have claimed a point if they had managed to keep a clean sheet. Most of the blame for the Philadelphia goal must lie at the feet of Tim Ream, as it was his misplaced pass that gave possession to the Union and his poor tackle that allowed the ball to run from Danny Mwanga to Torres. However, Rafael Márquez, the other central defender, was nowhere to be found, Bouna Coundoul did not make himself big in an effort to stop the shot, and Teemu Tainio's pass back to Ream, which initiated this defensive fiasco, was probably unnecessary.
The Red Bulls failed to create any good chances after Torres gave the home side the lead on sixty-eight minutes, but this cause was not aided Backe taking off Agudelo for Mehdi Ballouchy; Luke Rodgers, who had come on for Richards just before the Union goal, did not prove a significant threat either.
So, New York's unbeaten start to the season is gone, Philly are top of the East, and to round off a bad day, DC snatched a point against LA with a Charlie Davies penalty. San Jose visit Red Bull Arena next week, and Backe had better sort this lot out by then.