Brace yourselves, because though this may feel like a low point in the season - five points out of six dropped against two decidedly average teams - it could be a lot worse for the New York Red Bulls. Indeed, since the next game on the schedule is a trip to Real Salt Lake on June 30th, it probably will get worse for RBNY.
This match was RBNY's 20th of the season, its ninth draw, and its umpteenth disappointment. The team now has 24 points and is clinging on to fourth place in the Eastern Conference because most of the East is (currently) dreadful.
The Red Bulls are one point above New England, because the Revolution lost its sixth and seventh consecutive games this week. They are also one point ahead of Philadelphia because the Union has only won two of its last six, and that was because it had the good fortune to play the Revs during their current tailspin and...um...RBNY.
Seventh-placed Columbus just won its first match in eight attempts. Eighth-placed Chicago has also won once in eight games, and just registered its 11th tie of the season. Houston has won one of its last 10 games; Montreal has lost three in a row.
RBNY has only lost one of its last seven, which seems quite good set against the dismal achievements of the bottom six teams in the East. But it's not. The team has picked up just 10 points from the last 21 available.
This match, at home against the worst team in the West, was RBNY's 2014 problems writ small. It wasn't the "disaster" Shep Messing called it - this year wouldn't be so frustrating if all these dropped points were the results of disasters. It was yet another accumulation of near misses and might-have-beens that added up to points dropped that were there for the taking.
The MSG commentary team called the draw "probably the right result", based on the symmetry of the statistics: identical shots on goal, near perfectly matched passing accuracy and possession percentages. But it shouldn't have been close.
The Quakes got most of their chances in the first half. Chris Wondolowski had two excellent opportunities to score inside the opening ten minutes: let down by his touch on the first and blocked by Jamison Olave on the second.
Yannick Djalo had Luis Robles scrambling to cover his far post with a shot from distance in the 17th, and Steven Lenhart forced Robles into his best save of the game in the 40th minute.
But that was about it. The Quakes found chances throughout, but there is a reason they have scored the least goals in MLS: they aren't very good at finishing at the moment.
RBNY on the other hand is one of five teams in the league - and only two in the East - with more than 30 goals for the year to date. The Red Bulls are often quite good at finishing. Unfortunately, on this occasion, with the pressure on to win at home and stay in the race for something less than abject panic come September, RBNY's finishing took a night off.
Bradley Wright-Phillips missed two very good opportunities in the second half. In the 48th minute, he pushed a volley wide from six yards, and in the 82nd he had time to pick a spot but unfortunately picked the spot Jon Busch was standing in.
It isn't fair to blame BWP for missing the occasional shot. He's had 61 shots this year, put 35 of them on target and scored 17. He got one in this game too: the first-half penalty awarded to RBNY because Lenhart flailed at a ball aimed for Tim Cahill and hit it with his arm (while shunting Cahill out of the way).
And though more goals could have been scored, and the Quakes had their chances, the single goal should have been sufficient to win this game. San Jose's 85th minute equalizer wasn't a throwback to its Goonie Time heyday. It was a routine high ball in the box which Eric Alexander failed to clear.
A free kick bounced off Chris Wondolowski's head straight up into the air. Alexander was all alone underneath, and made the right choice to attack the ball and clear it with his head. But he looped it weakly to Atiba Harris instead, who volleyed first time back toward goal. The shot ricocheted off Chris Duvall and Ibrahim Sekagya, finding its way to Lenhart whose first touch was terrible. The ball bounced off the Quakes' striker, but he recovered with one step to fire past Robles.
It was, as so many goals are, the result of an avoidable defensive error. San Jose didn't load up the box with bodies. The Quakes didn't quite seem capable of mustering an all-out assault on goal. It was RBNY who used the final minutes to attack in waves. Maybe on another day, Peguy Luyindula wins a penalty for being kicked in the face, or the very least in proximity to a dangerously high boot. But he got a yellow card for diving instead, and RBNY finished the match with an urgency that had evaded them earlier in the game.
It is perhaps important not to overstate RBNY's problems. This was a disappointing draw but the team is still above the line in the Eastern Conference playoff race. New York also appears to be something of a victim of narrative. MLS is used to watching this team fail. But it hasn't really ever been in the hunt to defend its Supporters' Shield title this year, so dropping further back in that race can hardly be classified a disaster at this stage of the season.
As it happens, RBNY has exactly the same points total as Portland. The Timbers won this week for the first time in five games. If the Red Bulls are terrible, so are the Timbers. Indeed, Portland's situation is worse. The Western Conference teams are better at picking up points than their Eastern counterparts. Twenty-four points in the West gets you seventh place, three points off the pace for the playoffs (could be eighth if Chivas gets a result in DC).
What's worse for Portland: every team in their Conference has games in hand on them, except FC Dallas - and FCD is five points ahead.
Sure, winning your last game - especially a late comeback such as the Timbers staged - is grounds for celebration. But the general optimism around Portland's chances seems disproportionate to the despair projected on to the Red Bulls. On mlsssoccer.com, the headline on a post-game review of RBNY vs. San Jose reads, "New York Red Bulls admit they can 'kiss the playoffs goodbye' if defensive breakdowns persist". Meanwhile, the narrative around Portland is summarized by an article headline reading "Porter's big move pays off as Timbers inject life into their season".
A win is clearly much better than draw. But one of these teams has eight of its remaining 14 games at home, and is leading the pack of admittedly rather poor teams contesting the last couple of playoff spots in the East. The other is looking at eight of 14 on the road, and is at the bottom of the pack of Western Conference teams fighting for the right to accompany Seattle into the post-season.
There is no reason to write off Portland's chances right now: the Timbers were good last year, and they're not far away from where they need to be. But the Red Bulls were better than Portland in 2013 and are closer to the minimum threshold for a successful season than the Timbers.
The point: don't write either team off, and don't suggest one is radically better off than the other. Not until a few more games have been played.
Of course, the doom and gloom surrounding RBNY is largely self-generated. No one, least of all Mike Petke, was happy with this week. And this game has raised some questions about Petke's management of his squad.
He described the team as "tired" after the midweek loss in Philly. It wasn't a word one would expect to hear used about a team which had mailed in its US Open Cup fixture apparently to ensure as long a break as possible during the World Cup hiatus. And has since played the usual game-a-week schedule, until this three-in-seven-days run came along.
But, if the team is tired, the team is tired. That's why there is a squad of players. Petke sat Matt Miazga for San Jose, and started Ibrahim Sekagya. And then, as a tightly contested game unfolded and it became increasingly clear RBNY was looking at defending a one goal lead and hoping to get a second on the break, Petke did...nothing.
The one substitution he made was in the 74th minute, and it was out of desperation. Tim Cahill took a bang to the eye and left the field for treatment. In the time it took to decide whether he should be replaced, and warm up Peguy Luyindula to enter the match, San Jose almost scored.
It is impossible to say whether Petke had planned to bring Luyindula in for Cahill in the last 15 minutes, or 10, or five, or if he had another plan until circumstance intervened. His post-match comments suggested he simply doesn't have a lot of faith in the other options on the bench: "if it doesn't feel like it's going to make an impact and the way the game's going, I'm just not going to make a sub."
He ducked out of bringing Michael Bustamante on to the field to bolster the midfield defense because Lenhart scored just as the proposed substitute had finished warming up. But that was the 85th minute. This was perhaps a little late in a game where the referee handed out five yellow cards in twenty minutes (starting with Lenhart in the 64th minute and concluding with Duvall in the 84th).
A card-happy referee can make players a little skittish, especially when the bulk of fouls were being called against RBNY. In part this was because most of the advantage calls went the Red Bulls' way also, but not so much to explain a 21-7 difference in fouls called between the two teams.
The referee didn't help RBNY build attacking momentum. Nor did the fact the team is increasingly playing a de facto 4-5-1, with Thierry Henry dropping deep, Tim Cahill dropping deeper, and BWP running around up top to find whatever gaps he can or hold up the ball for reinforcements.
RBNY had ten shots in this game, and six of them were taken by BWP. Cahill and Henry, the team's top scorers last year, combined for zero shots - on or off target.
Neither was doing a great job of helping hold possession or stopping San Jose getting looks at goal, and neither was consistently getting into threatening positions in the final third. A tactical change to address the matter might have been worth considering before Cahill's injury made it essential.
This team's best form of defense is attack. And on the days when the ball isn't hitting the net for BWP, it should have plenty of other options. It didn't in this match, and the absence of a second goal ended up costing RBNY.
It's easy to second-guess a coach after the game is over. Petke did what he thought was best, and it might have worked but for one poor clearance. But this was game 20 of a 34-game season. A season in which the team still has to play in the CONCACAF Champions League it worked so hard to get into, and find a way to win perhaps as many 26 points out of its remaining 14 remaining league games.
If the head coach looks at his bench and can't see players to help him control the worst team in the West in his own stadium, is he proposing to nurse the tired, erratic group of 12 or 13 (Roy Miller will surely be back soon) guys he does trust to a successful season? And does that mean the club will be sacrificing yet another competition to the increasingly difficult task of making the playoffs?