After a rousing, come from behind victory while down a man against the New England Revolution last week, the New York Red Bulls had seemingly turned their less than mediocre season around. At least, that's what they wanted you to think. Last night's match against the Chicago Fire told a much different story. Uninspired play, baffling managerial choices and all around bad luck seem to be a continuing theme throughout 2014 and last night was no different. Before besting the Bulls, the Fire were winless in their last eight matches. After last night, they have a whopping four wins on the season, two of which come courtesy of the Red Bulls. That means RBNY accounts for 50% of the Fire's wins on the year. Not good.
The match started off promising enough, despite Mike Petke's decision to start Roy Miller at centerback in place of suspended starter, Jamison Olave. The move would be sensical enough if sometimes starting CB, Armando, wasn't available. But he was, yet started, and finished the match on the bench. To fill Miller's normal spot on the left, rookie sensation Ambroise Oyongo was shifted from his place in the midfield, which called for Eric Alexander to reclaim the left side of the pitch to little effect. Still, New York was able to maintain most of possession for large parts of the match and even managed to create a few clear chances on goal. If one were to judge by the opening fifteen minutes, you'd think the Red Bulls had the game well in hand....and then luck took an unfriendly turn.
For what seems like the fifteenth time this season, the Red Bulls fell victim to a controversial penalty call in the box. Making a run on net, Quincy Amarikwa appeared to back into Oyongo, causing the Chicago striker to hit the turf like a sack of bricks, clutching at his leg as though he'd just been shot. The theatrics worked and the referee pointed at the spot. While New York keeper, Luis Robles was able to block Mike Magee's initial shot, the rebound landed conveniently at the foot of last year's league MVP, which he easily slotted into the open net, bringing the Fire up 1-0.
New York came to life for the first few minutes following the Fire goal, seeing Thierry Henry create chance after chance for red hot striker, Bradley Wright-Phillips. Unfortunately, BWP just wasn't up to his usual quality and squandered every chance he was given by either biffing the easy pass to an open man or taking one too many touches and letting Chicago centerback Bakary Soumare snuff out any clear shots on goal. Still, the Red Bulls went into the locker room at half time looking like the better team.
The second half continued much like the first half ended, with RBNY holding on the ball but creating very little by way of clear scoring opportunities. By the sixtieth minute, the team looked gassed, yet Petke refused to make any substitutions. By the time any actual changes were made, it was already much too late. Bobby Convey entered the game for Eric Alexander and looked just as invisible while Peguy Luyindula came on for a largely ineffective Tim Cahill. Peguy tried his best to spark an attack but time wasn't on the French midfielder's side. As the whistle finally blew, New York walked off the pitch having earned their seventh loss of the season, keeping them in fourth place in the Easter Conference with the Philadelphia Union and The Columbus Crew just a point behind.
New York has a week off before they go into a terribly congested September where they'll need to take every point they can while dealing with the Concacaf Champions League. Three points would have gone a long way in easing their minds going into a hectic month. As it stands, the New York Red Bulls are looking like a team that is going to struggle just to make it into the playoffs.