The New York Red Bulls continued their unbeaten streak in the 2015 season through their first four matches by virtue of a stunning comeback to earn a draw against the D.C. United by a final scoreline of 2-2 on the road at RFK Stadium. The match was very physical from the start, as you would expect when two bitter rivals get together to play another installment of the Atlantic Cup series. The referee handed out 3 yellow card cautions in this match, and the pace of play was pretty brisk from the start to the finish of this match.
D.C. opened the scoring with a goal in the 26th minute by Perry Kitchen, who is often a nemesis of the Red Bulls, who drilled a header off a well struck corner kick by Taylor Kemp. The goal was mainly the result of a defensive lapse by New York because nobody was marking Kitchen defensively, and he has had success against them in the past on set piece plays.
However, that first goal was more the direct result of the two plays which preceded it. The Red Bulls were pushing the action in their high press attack and Sacha Kljestan had a great ball in on D.C. goal, but it lead to a United counter attack. New York goalkeeper, Luis Robles, made a great save on that counter attack on a shot which lead to the corner kick that D.C. converted for the opening goal of the contest.
In fact, the Red Bulls came out of the gates playing well stringing together some excellent combination passes, and using the overlapping run very well to try to keep D.C. off balance as well as to mitigate their ability to counter attack because United would be forced to play from a deeper lying position.
The action was paced back and forth fairly evenly until United earned their second goal on a low scorching shot by Kitchen from the top of the penalty area which beat Robles in the 67th minute. The home crowd exploded and it appeared that the game was out of reach for the Red Bulls.
The turning point of the match came one minute later when Red Bulls defender, Damien Perrinelle, snapped a ball off a set piece corner kick by Felipe past United goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Hamid entered the match playing very well, having allowed just 2 goals in 4 matches prior to Saturday night's meeting. The goal cut the deficit in half right away, and the Red Bulls began to dominate the action while D.C seemed content to try and ride out the storm with a one goal advantage at home.
The Red Bulls also got a huge play to keep the game within reach when Dax McCarty made a great play on a set piece by D.C. with Robles out of position he drove the ball out of bounds with a great header to prevent another goal from being conceded.
That strategy seemed to have worked for United, but with just one minute remaining in regulation time when Sacha Kljestan stepped up to take a direct kick from about 25 yards out which careened off the hands of D.C. goalie Hamid. Lloyd Sam was right there for New York to knock in the rebound for his club-leading third goal of the season to tie the match at two goals each.
This result demonstrated a resilience to this group of players that the Red Bulls have not always consistently displayed in the past. A two goal deficit on the road is very difficult to overcome, let alone against a top-tier opponent such as D.C. (who remain in first place in the East despite the draw) but this club was able to stay focused and work together to earn a point in the standings. The coaching staff deserves credit for this result as well because the club certainly looked prepared and confident despite the adverse conditions they were in at one point in this match.
In my own view, I thought that the officiating by referee Juan Carlos Rivera was too inconsistent. In the early stages of the match D.C. defender Sean Franklin should have been called for at least two fouls, particularly the play on Mike Grella should have been a yellow card caution. I believe that since those fouls were not called it set the precedent for a very physical match which I think detracted from some of the skilled plays that were displayed.
I also like the way in which the Red Bulls played the ball with combination passes and they showed restraint from relentlessly driving the ball forward in attacking mode. The play of Matt Miazga I believe was greatly improved over other matches this season. New York also used Chris Duvall on the attack moving forward from his defensive position quite often in this match, which reminded me of the way that Mike Petke used to use his wing defenders up high on offense.
I agree with the point that MSG Network analyst, Shep Messing, made prior to the match regarding United and their preference in using Chris Rolfe on the attacking end therefore the Red Bulls should focus their attack on that side of the field which is Sam's side. However, New York did not do that as often as I thought that they would have tried to exploit that weakness in the D.C. formation.
In my view, this was the best match for Kljestan with the club. He seemed a great deal more comfortable in that attacking midfield role and his play on the set piece resulted in the tying goal being scored. He made some great plays on the ball though throughout the match and looked like he is getting in sync with his new teammates.
The play of Bradley Wright-Phillips as a facilitator was an interesting role for him to play, and as a fan, I liked it more than I thought I was going to when Shep Messing was discussing it during the MSG telecast. It is certainly strange to not see him in a goal scoring role, but he made some excellent passes during the match which could foretell a new role for him as this long season moves ahead.
Perrinelle deserves a lot of credit too for his all around performance and I have to credit Coach Marsch because he has so much confidence in this player and I think we are seeing the rationale behind that at this point. In the days leading up to this match I thought that the injuries to the defensive core and the freelance roving of Felipe to play anywhere but his supposed position were going to cost the Red Bulls in this match.
In the end, New York was able to rise above all of the elements stacked against them to earn an important draw on the road that I believe they will use to build upon in the matches ahead on their schedule. The resilient nature of this team is something that we as fans should be very excited by, because it is a much needed attribute during the six month regular season of MLS competition.
The Red Bulls now get ready to host the San Jose Eathquakes this Friday night, April 17th, on Autism Awareness Night at Red Bull Arena. The club will seek to extend their unbeaten streak in an important match for both clubs.