The New York Red Bulls may have run their unbeaten streak to 7 matches, the longest streak to open a season in club history, but it was in an unexpected draw with the Colorado Rapids by a 1-1 scoreline. most people surrounding the team thought that the streak would be extended with a Red Bulls victory over a Rapids club that has been pretty hapless this season.
However, if not for some fortunate saves by New York goalkeeper, Luis Robles, this result would have been a loss for the Red Bulls at home. In what many would call a "trap game" sandwiched between matches with perennial league power the LA Galaxy and their Eastern rivals the New England Revolution, the Red Bulls came out and looked listless and flat in several stretches of the game with Colorado.
The Rapids deployed a lineup which featured two large central defenders: Bobby Burling and Axel Sjoberg, which characteristically causes problems for the Red Bulls in the past. New York has difficulty dealing with manufacturing offensive scoring chances against bigger, more physical central defending players. That test will continue this weekend when the Red Bulls travel to New England to face the first place Revolution and their top flight defensive unit.
High Press and Counter
The initial ten minutes of the match were very slow for both clubs. Rapids attacking forward Gabriel Torres had the first real chance of the match at 10:30 and missed wide. The Red Bulls attack generated from the high press style of play started churning at twelve minutes into the match when Dax McCarty, Chris Duvall, Bradley Wright-Phillips, and Sacha Kljestan all had great touches on the ball resulting in a brilliant shot by Kljestan which was saved by Rapids keeper Clint Irwin.
The Red Bulls success early in this 2015 campaign has come from the opposition being unable to deal with their high pressure system. The MSG Network telecast last night discussed it at one point with Shep Messing explaining that the opponent either has to go over the top of the press or string together two or three really precise passes to go through the high pressure formation.
The Rapids, to their credit, were able to put together the passes needed to effectively counter the high press with the first big breakout counter coming at 13:30 when Dominique Badji broke through one on one with Robles who made the first of a few critical saves last night. Colorado midfielder, Juan Ramirez, also was able to counter the high press and get some good looks at the goal last night.
In looking ahead to Saturday night's match up with the first place Revolution, the Red Bulls are going to have to tighten up some of those lapses in order to have an optimal performance in a match which has some definite significance in the standings even though it is still early in the season.
In the 25th minute the Rapids broke through with a goal by Gabriel Torres off of a set piece play to make it 1-0 in favor of the road team. Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch after the match had this comment:
What was troubling about tonight, I'm not so worried about the first goal part as much as I am just having a really bad start to the game where we wanted to make sure we had a good start and were on top of the match from the beginning. I think that we thought this was going to be an easier game than it was. Credit to Colorado, I think we knew that they were going to come here, fight and battle hard and they did.
Five Minute Frenzy
Those five minutes of the match from the 25th to the 30th minute were the most action filled and frenetic of the match. Lloyd Sam would execute a great pass into the penalty area which resulted in a penalty shot being rewarded to New York because of a hard tackle in the box on Sacha Kljestan. Bradley Wright-Phillips would take the penalty shot and bury it for the Red Bulls to level the match at one goal each.
The Rapids would follow that with another Badji breakout chance on goal which Robles got a piece of the shot and the ball rolled just off the post. That was the first of many close calls that New York would withstand in the match last night. New York also looked tentative at times with players passing the ball instead of taking shots on goal from dangerous areas on the field.
Lloyd Sam continued to be more assertive and aggressive in his play last night, which the Red Bulls will need him to continue that trend going into the match with New England on Saturday night. The Revolution have, at points, had trouble with trying to contain Sam and his speed, he could be the "X factor" in the weekend clash between these two rivals. He had a curling shot in the second half that nearly scored, Sam needs to be that type of offensive catalyst this weekend against New England.
The Red Bulls have another short turnaround to get prepared for the Revolution this weekend which can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. New York midfielder, Sacha Kljestan, had this to say after the Rapids match about the weekend tilt with New England:
It was already a big game. We had that one figured out that they've been on a good run here, and that's going to be an important game. They knocked us out of the playoffs last year so, we'll have some revenge on our minds, but we have to stay positive, go there, and try to get a good result, and get ready for a really important game against a good team.
Head Coach Jesse Marsch would not let on to any potential lineup changes due to the switch to Field Turf in New England. New York has, as recently as last season, withheld key players from their lineup due to the risk of injury on turf such as former standouts Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave. When asked about a lineup shift, Marsch had this to say after last night's draw with Colorado:
I just love that turf. It's part of this league [and] we understand that. There are some places that you have to deal with it so there are no excuses. As far as the schedule it's the same thing. The way that the league and the schedule-makers set it up, it's going to be a test. It's going to be a long season. It's going to get even harder. If we start making excuses now, we'll start to do ourselves in. I understand the character of this team and I really believe that, regardless of who's in the starting lineup on Saturday, regardless of the conditions and who we're playing against, we're going to bring the sort of focus that's going to be able to get three points.
It also remains to be seen if New England will stack the midfield and play behind the ball as much as the Rapids did last night. Several Red Bulls players admitted in the MSG post game report that they found it difficult to weave through 10 bodies to get anywhere near the attacking third of the field. The Revs come into the match riding high on the heels of a 4-0 thrashing of Real Salt Lake at Gillette Stadium.
The key to the match on Saturday night is the ability for the Red Bulls to contain Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo, and Lee Nguyen. All three of those players have scored goals this season for New England and each of the players in that trio have had timely goals against the Red Bulls in previous meetings between the two clubs. New York Head Coach Marsch will most certainly make some adjustments to ensure that his side has defenders marking those players and forcing them to either give up the ball or lose possession.
The point on the defensive arrangements for the match on Saturday leads me to a final point, the Red Bulls are very lucky that Damien Perrinelle did not receive a red card last night which would have suspended him from the New England match. He had two hard challenges in the match that could have been easily called a yellow card if not a full red card for aggressive play. The referee, Mark Geiger, let the two sides play last night and let some pretty physical play go without warnings or cautionary yellow cards being issued. The Red Bulls are lucky because they will need Perrinelle defensively to mark up the top offensive players for New England on Saturday night.
The Red Bulls escaped Wednesday night with a draw, and they were lucky to do so. I think going up to New England on Saturday they will be lucky to leave there with any points at all if they do not play markedly better soccer in all aspects of the game.