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Week 32: New York Red Bulls 1-3 Columbus Crew

For the first time since May 24th, the Red Bulls lost a home game...

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

There are three Wikipedia entries for "You Can't Always Get What You Want": one describes an episode of One Tree Hill; another refers to an installment of Grounded for Life; one is about the song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, released by the Rolling Stones in July 1969. You can't always get what you want, even when all you want is to find out when the song bearing that title was recorded.

The New York Red Bulls didn't get anything they wanted out of their last home game of the 2014 season.

A goal or two for Bradley Wright-Phillips to help him edge closer to MLS's single-season scoring record? Nope. A moment of magic from Thierry Henry in what might be his last ever appearance at Red Bull Arena? Nope. Points to help secure at least the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs? Nope.

RBNY even managed to fumble its Fan Appreciation Day, advising fans to collect Luis Robles bobbleheads before the game...

But not quite getting it done as planned...

Perhaps the bobbleheads were a bad omen, as a prescient man once suggested in 2011:

RBNY's final home game of the regular season was a SMH moment.

After seven straight home victories, fans had got used to seeing the Red Bulls win, but few things are more damaging to this team than a sense of entitlement.

Not many teams, if any, come in and boss us around like that -Mike Petke (empireofsoccer.com)

The signs that this might not be one of RBNY's better days were present early in the game. Columbus was threatening on the break, and the Red Bulls were perhaps a little too casual - Roy Miller almost set up Federico Higuain to open the scoring by effectively passing the ball to the Crew playmaker in front of goal.

Not that Miller can be singled out. The team was impressively coherent in its commitment to loose passing for the full 90 minutes.

In the 17th minute, when Columbus scored its first goal, the sequence resulting in the ball landing in Robles's net was initiated by Thierry Henry, who was beaten to a pass by Wil Trapp. Ethan Finlay gratefully ran into space, and crossed to Aaron Schoenfeld, who had the time and space to mangle his first attempt to control the ball before lacing a shot past Robles.

Fortunate? Perhaps - but it was the Crew's third significant opportunity of the opening 20 minutes. The visitors were making their own luck, with some assistance from their hosts.

In the 34th minute, Tony Tchani received the ball in his own half, encountering one challenge (he shook off Dax McCarty without breaking stride) before simply sliding a pass through the back line for Finlay to shoot. 2-0.

They were better than us by a distance -Thierry Henry (bigapplesoccer.com)

RBNY was, quite simply, outplayed at its own game.

The Crew's third goal was of the sort the Red Bulls have been creating all season: a quick break (sprung after BWP tried a no-look pass to Henry that the captain didn't see coming until it was too late to reach) leading Columbus into the final third with the defense in disarray, and a smart run by Finlay to distract both center backs, allowing him to cross to Schoenfeld, unmarked in front of goal. The score was 3-1 in the 80th minute, and it stayed that way.

Schoenfeld is some distance from the finished article as a striker. He needs a little too much time to line up a shot, but he got plenty of time in this game. If he could play this RBNY team every week, he'd be challenging for the Golden Boot.

If they had a legitimate world-class finisher, they could be top of the league -Mike Petke (bigapplesoccer.com)

At the other end, RBNY struggled to find its traditional scoring outlet, BWP. The way to shut down this iteration of the New York Red Bulls starts by shutting down its record-breaking scorer. Columbus did so extremely well: BWP had one shot in the entire game, and he put that a little too close to Steve Clark.

RBNY's plan B was also ineffective. If a defense is all over BWP, chances are it will leave space for another player to get a look at goal. And when that player is Thierry Henry, the result is very often favorable for the Red Bulls.

Not so on this occasion. Henry had two good chances: Clark saved one, Tyson Wahl did extremely well to block the other.

They've done everything right. They beat us in every part of the game -Lloyd Sam (empireofsoccer.com)

The paucity of scoring opportunities (RBNY had six shots for  the game, four on target; Columbus made 14 attempts, landing seven on frame) for the home team was a credit to the Crew's defensive tactics. As a team, the visitors understood the main threat presented by RBNY, and worked hard to keep BWP from getting free, while also clogging the middle of the field: no outlet and no space.

Faced with few opportunities to get the ball to BWP from central areas, the Red Bulls increasingly pushed wide - from where they were too often reduced to crossing the ball in the air. By the end of the match, RBNY was credited with 37 attempted crosses: six connected with a friendly target. The Crew managed five successful crosses from just 15 attempts - this might perhaps be explained as the difference between a team with a 5' 8" lone forward (BWP) and one with a 6' 4" target man up front (Schoenfeld).

We have, of course, seen this sort of performance before from RBNY. It was a very common sight in the frustrating days before Mike Petke switched to the current 4-2-3-1 formation, which seemed to fix the problem by giving the team a better balance of wide and central options when it had the ball.

But any tactic relies on good execution. RBNY did not play well. Passing was too casual, too often - which is how Columbus managed to achieve almost 50% possession despite largely playing on the counter. It is difficult to play rope-a-dope when your opponent is too dopey to reach the ropes, but the Crew accepted the freedom it was granted to open up its game with good grace.

I think at one point, they kept the ball for, I don't know for how long. They made like 40 passes and Tchani gave the ball to their striker and they scored -Thierry Henry (bigapplesoccer.com)

The Red Bulls didn't help their cause by singularly failing to make any major tactical adjustment to try to fix the problem. For the second consecutive game in which he's played (it happened against Houston as well), Peguy Luyindula was muscled out of the match. The ball wasn't getting to him very often; when it did, he wasn't hanging on to it very well.

Mike Petke spotted the problem, but the first adjustment was to switch Luyindula with Henry, presumably in the hope Peguy would enjoy more space out wide and the captain would handle the claustrophobic midfield more effectively. We got 15 minutes of this arrangement before Petke finally put Luyindula out of his misery and brought on Ambroise Oyongo, who almost immediately dribbled to the edge of the area and won a free kick.

If you're being invited to play wide, it is often helpful to get your true wide players on the pitch.

Of course, Oyongo did not make any contribution to the score. Indeed, he entered the game just after RBNY had got a goal back. Lloyd Sam, tired of making crosses for Crew center backs to head away, decided to change his approach: he cut inside two defenders, dribbled into the box and hammered a shot past Clark. 2-1 in the 58th minute: the Red Bulls could have turned the game around.

But they didn't. The team never summoned the competence or urgency to follow Sam's example (shoot early and often). With Oyongo on the pitch, Petke might have reached for a bigger target - 6' 4" Saer Sene was on the bench - but stuck grimly to the notion that BWP and Henry might figure out a way to unlock the defense that had held them at bay for most of the game.

The only other substitution the coach offered - Ruben Bover for Dax McCarty - came a minute before the Crew scored its third goal. And not even the fact of being two goals down for the second time in the match could persuade Petke to make any further changes.

It was a bad day for pretty much everyone involved with the team: the players, the coaches, whoever had the misfortune to be tasked with distributing bobbleheads.

Maybe after making the playoffs we sat back and took too big of an exhale, perhaps, I don't know -Mike Petke (bigapplesoccer.com)

We are not yet at the win-or-go-home stage of the season, and the loss did not make it impossible for the Red Bulls to claim the fourth (or even third) seed in the playoffs. The team can still secure a marginal advantage in the post-season if it beats Sporting Kansas City in Kansas City next week.

The 2014 Red Bulls are at their worst when expected to be at their best. This is a team that has dropped points at home to Colorado, Chivas and San Jose. A team that has lost on 10 occasions, of which six have been to less-than-great opponents (Vancouver, Toronto, Philadelphia, Portland, and twice to the Fire).

Indeed, RBNY only started winning consistently this year when it had almost under-performed its way out of the playoffs. The only way this team knows is the hard way.

This was the Red Bulls last "easy" game of the season: at home, against a spirited but limited opponent - now proven to be quite capable of thoroughly outplaying an ostensibly more-talented Red Bulls.

All the remaining games will be harder than this one. Perhaps that is exactly what RBNY needs to retrieve its best possible form in time for the post-season.