The alarm bells are being sounded. The New York Red Bulls' start to the 2016 season has become increasingly difficult to watch as the losses mount and the barren streak in front of goal continues. The latest unpleasant chapter saw RBNY visit Avaya Stadium for the first time and leave it with another loss. Another 2-0 loss (third of the season so far!), another clean sheet awarded to the opposition (fifth time this year the team has been held scoreless in the league!). The San Jose Earthquakes found ways to convert their chances; the Red Bulls did not: you've read this story before.
Fatai Alashe tallied the first goal late in the first half: a deflected shot from outside the NY area just beat Luis Robles. It was a scramble in the box: a lot of passing by the Quakes and a lot of defending by the Red Bulls, but Matias Perez-Garcia was able to shoulder down the ball and found Alashe. The shot clipped Kemar Lawrence and that changed its direction sufficiently to fool the 'keeper. 1-0 to the team playing RBNY. You've read this story before.
The second goal of the game was converted in the 55th minute, by in-form Chris Wondolowski. A turnover in midfield, a nice cross from Shea Salinas, and all Wondo had to do was walk to the front of the door and nod an easy header past Robles. Didn't even have to knock.
That goal put Wondolowski level with Ante Razov on 114 career league goals: 4th place on the all-time MLS scoring list.
Six games into their 2016 season, the Red Bulls have won once and lost their other five league matches. We can continue to say that this is fixable - the team has only played six games, after all - but, at the moment, it's not looking good. Teams are mostly following the same script against RBNY: allowing the Red Bulls ample possession, forcing them wide, and crowding the middle to defend the inevitable crosses into the box - then break on the counter and hope to find space and time to fashion a scoring opportunity.
For RBNY, long looping balls from the midfield to the striker all too often look like they are going nowhere, and coughing up possession too easily is becoming a bad habit. In this match, the only chance the Red Bulls created that looked to have real quality behind it was from Mike Grella - who took a firm, low shot that was saved by David Bingham in the 79th minute. The rest were the familiar mix of flubs, near-misses, and frustrated punts into the crowd.
The stats in this match also have a familiar ring to them: shots on target, crosses, possession, passing accuracy & total passes - all in the Red Bulls favor. That might count as some success, if any of those stats brought points in the standings. But until rules are changed to make possession and passing count towards a win, the important stat is the score, and the only time the Red Bulls have scored this season is in the home match against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, March 19th. All four league goals scored in 2016 to date came that day - and none since.
Still, there were some positives on the night: Tyler Adams got his first game and his first start for the club's senior side, playing a solid 45 minutes before he subbed out at the start of the 2nd half. Luis Robles played the full 90 minutes for the 112th consecutive time in his MLS career: he is now tied with Kevin Hartman for the league's all-time record for consecutive games played.
And now the club moves on to its next road game at the Colorado Rapids, a team in ominously good form (the Rapids beat Sporting Kansas City in KC while RBNY was laboring in San Jose). Jesse Marsch is not giving up and neither are the players, but as each game passes without meaningful improvement in results, it becomes increasingly difficult not to think about the two worst seasons in the club's history to date: 1999 and 2009.
It is still very early in this league campaign. But the lack of wins and scoring is alarming. Changes need to happen, changes have happened, but maybe it is not the players on the field who need to be changed. Some see a need for a change in tactics and formation, and the longer these results persist, the bigger that "some" becomes. Hopefully, the head coach is listening.