I don’t like relying on the "Eye Test."
Always second-guessing what I’m seeing, I want to seek out data-driven evidence to parse out what I believe is transpiring in front of me. I know the game I’m watching but I always want more. Unfortunately, there are some things in sports that can’t quite be measured or proven and in those instances you must trust what you’re seeing.
Last Sunday night at Red Bull Arena was one of those evenings.
As the New York Red Bulls entered their matchup with Orlando City SC; losers of five straight and six of seven overall, one thing started to stick out to me in last week’s loss at the Colorado Rapids.
The Red Bulls looked slow.
It wasn’t slow in the traditional sense, which I had wondered if it had become a real issue, or merely a result of playing on the snowy track in Commerce City. Rather, the Red Bulls looked step slower than the Colorado Rapids in anticipation.
What we’re about to do is take a leap of faith and dive into the potential psyche of a team that I have no direct contact with.
Had New York reached a point where that so much had gone wrong; injuries, mistakes, loses, etc. that it was beginning to seep into the collective consciousness of the team? Had the Red Bulls become tentative and thus were giving up space to opposing attacks and not making the decisive decision on offense?
Again, I usually like to stay away from being the body language doctor, but as Cyle Larin put Orlando up in the third minute, I began wondering if the same things were happening that occurred against the Rapids.
New York seemed astounded to have been down early in a game. Not only that, but there was a growing frustration as they spent the rest of the half descending on Orlando’s goal without putting one in.
Part of what made NY so successful in 2015 was their ability to collectively close down on the opposition. The Red Bulls were first to loose balls and when they found themselves on the defense they hounded their opponents and either took the ball away or forced bad giveaways.
In the second half especially, the Red Bulls would finally find that energy, and it was exemplified by the play of Mike Grella.
While Grella’s performance had its fair share of highlights; from his extremely well-taken goal that tied the game in the 65th minute to his "assist" on Bradley Wright-Phillips’ goal in the 69th.
Grella may have shined brightest in the big moments, but it was his dirty work that drove him to WhoScored.com’s second-ranked overall performance of the night (Wright-Phillips was their Man of the Match). The Glen Cove, NY native’s defensive hustle was exemplary as he led New York's midfield with nine recoveries, three clearances and registering an interception.
Once the Red Bulls had quickly turned the deficit into an lead, there seemed to be renewed energy with the team.
From the 50th to the 75th minute, NY took control and got their three goals.
Unlike other times throughout the season when the Red Bulls had most of the possession, New York were creating numerous chances and most importantly, converting.
There finally seemed to be some belief in the team as they saw the game out in collecting their second win of the season.
Sacha Kljestan was a monster.
Kljestan will never be the prototypical playmaker that many fans crave but what cannot be denied is his overall quality and against the Lions.
Second on the team with 59 completed passes, with many of them short. Kljestan's actions in the attacking third orchestrated an offense that had it’s best night in a month.
Putting in work from a myriad of positions on the field, Sacha was a maestro connecting on 10 key passes (final pass leading to an attempt on goal) and a pinpoint pass to Grella for the Red Bulls' first goal of the game.
The 30-year-old out of Seton Hall will still on occasion fail to put his imprint on games, but when he does, Kljestan shows that he’s New York’s best player and the driving force in their success.