The New York Red Bulls suffered their four loss of the 2011 season on Saturday night, as a second-half goal by former Red Bull Dwayne De Rosario gave rival DC United a 1-0 victory at Red Bull Arena. New York remains top of the Eastern Conference, but only on goal difference after the Philadelphia Union drew with San Jose.
The Red Bulls' performance was probably their worst of the season; it was only the third time that they failed to score (the others were away to Columbus and away to Philadelphia), they allowed United to control the ball for long periods, and allowed the visitors to create plenty of scoring chances. Further, this game came off the back of a resounding 5-0 win against Toronto FC, and New York was able to field all but two of its first-choice starting XI, with only Rafael Márquez and Teemu Tainio missing out due to injury and suspension, respectively.
The 1-0 defeat did more than just keep the Red Bulls from sweeping the season series against DC for the first time ever, it also highlighted a number of problems with New York's coaching, set-up, and mentality. First and foremost, the Red Bulls seem incapable of showing up in big games and playing well when the chips are down. Under Hans Backe, New York has fallen to defeats or dismal draws in most of their games against local rivals, only once beaten a quality opponent (the 2-0 victory over the LA Galaxy last season), and have generally failed to impress in high-pressure games.
Last night also showed how much the team misses Teemu Tainio when the Finnish midfielder is out of the lineup. His suspension due to yellow card accumulation forced the only change in New York's starting XI from Wednesday's game against Toronto. Clearly DC United are a better side, and another 5-0 win would have been extremely unlikely even if Tainio had started, but New York's inability to keep the ball for long stretches, combined with their failure to win it back and the obvious lack of a defensive presence in midfield proved a serious set of obstacles which the Red Bulls were unable to surmount.
Related to this problem in the holding midfield spot was the atrocious play of Mehdi Ballouchy, who did not provide an attacking threat or any defensive cover, but continually ceded possession to United and failed to win it back. According to the Chalkboard, he was tackled and lost the ball seven times while winning just one tackle.
Unsurprisingly, another problem for the Red Bulls was on the left side of their defense, where Roy Miller played one of his worst games this season. He wasn't helped by Hans Backe shifting Joel Lindpere into the middle, with Ballouchy slotting in at left wing, but was weak defensively and provided nothing in the attacking third. Tim Ream's heroics throughout the match were frequently prompted by Miller's mistakes and laziness. He was beaten far too easily for the lone goal of the game and made no attempt to get level with De Rosario or win the ball.
One of the overarching issues that helped to cause some of the problems described above is Backe's failure to rotate players. Not only does this mean that the first-choice XI is more fatigued due to the number of games they have to play, it also keeps the younger players from getting experience that could be valuable when they play in the Open Cup and eventually start in League games. Backe may feel he has few options off the bench, but at least part of that problem is due to his own reluctance to try out the Red Bulls' younger players as options off the bench or in the starting XI.
Thankfully for New York, the mediocrity of the Eastern Conference means that the Red Bulls can still win the Conference and will almost certainly make the playoffs. Next up is a trip out to Chicago for the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup, where a Red Bulls reserve side will have to come up with a great performance to go through.
Selected Statistics (NY-DC)
Passing Accuracy: 84%-81%
Total Passes: 479-356
Open Play Crosses: 21-9
Fouls Committed: 7-12
Shots (On Goal): 18(4)-14(3)