The New York Red Bulls re-started their season where they had left off: with a win and a clean sheet. The 2-0 home win over Seattle Sounders was important, because it keeps RBNY competing for the lead in the Eastern Conference and because the team has finally accumulated as many wins (seven) as it has losses (seven) for this season so far. The slate is wiped clean; RBNY has at least got out of the hole it dug for itself with six losses in its first seven league games this season.
Here are a few more things we learned from the Red Bulls' return to MLS action:
1. Win some, lose some
On a different night, RBNY loses this game by a lot. The Sounders came with a familiar plan: work the break, attack down the flanks, catch the Red Bulls' full backs out of position and charge in on goal. Seattle took more shots than RBNY; on another day, some of those shots go in.
In that respect, this game was similar to several of those we have seen RBNY lose over the past couple of seasons: a team shows up at Red Bull Arena, sits back a bit, plays the counter well, and exposes the back line to punish the Red Bulls on the break. We saw this too often at the start of this year, when RBNY took an extended journey into incompetence.
This game showed that those problems have not gone away entirely. Seattle could and should have scored plenty.
Lung busting run from Morris. His shot goes just wide. pic.twitter.com/Ds8FgIz9cP— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) June 20, 2016
Kovaraldo with another effort but it looks like it winds up going behind him. pic.twitter.com/vW0YNHHqS3— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) June 20, 2016
But the difference in this game was not that RBNY's defense was much improved (this match was more regression than progress in that regard), nor simply that the Sounders were hapless in front of goal.
The difference between this game and those RBNY has lost in the past was up front. There was another familiar tale in attack: Bradley Wright-Phillips had a cold night in front of goal, scuffing and snatching at shots to little effect. Earlier in the season, if BWP couldn't score, it seemed no one could score for RBNY, and you can't win if you can't score.
We've seen those days when Sacha Kljestan takes a shot on goal, misses the target but creates a good opportunity that goes untaken. This time, Mike Grella bagged the chance.
We've seen those days when BWP's ceaseless work up front sends a teammate into a scoring position, without success. This time, Grella seized on Brad Evans' mistake and chipped in.
The reason RBNY's defense is often a little untidy is because the team is fundamentally more about scoring goals than stopping them: this is unlikely to change any time soon. The Red Bulls are built to score, and that scoring is not supposed to depend entirely on BWP. This result owed a little bit to luck - Aaron Kovar can't be that bad a finisher - but even more to Mike Grella.
2. Rotation has started
Jesse Marsch raised a great many fans' eyebrows with a starting lineup that put Ronald Zubar alongside Chris Duvall, while newfound defensive stalwart Aurelien Collin sat on the bench. Since Gideon Baah was also on the bench, it looked a lot like Marsch had decided to rest his midweek center back starters (Collin and Baah were part of the lineup that won RBNY's opening US Open Cup game in Rochester).
We expect Marsch to rotate the squad over the summer, particularly during stretches like the current run of five games in two weeks (starting with Rochester on June 15 and finishing with Philadelphia on June 29). Starting Duvall and Zubar against Seattle probably doesn't tell us a lot about who Marsch thinks his two best center backs are; more likely, it tells us the rotation has begun.
3. Zubar down again?
In the 82nd minute, oft-injured defender Ronald Zubar made way for Gideon Baah. Initial reports (and gestures) suggested it was due to (another) injury:
Zubar gesturing for a sub #RBNY— Pete (@SneakyPete115) June 20, 2016
Quad strain for Zubar as per the broadcast. I wish he could have an extended period of time where he's healthy.— Long Island's Capo (@JeffreyKleiman) June 20, 2016
If Marsch's intention was to rotate the center backs regularly during this crowded spell of games - well, Zubar's latest problem has neatly aligned with the team's plans. Hopefully, he's back to full fitness quickly enough for his absence not to be felt by the squad.
Part of the reason the Red Bulls have acquired so much defensive cover in the squad is because its defenders keep going down injured. Currently, Kemar Lawrence is expected to be out until around the end of July and Damien Perrinelle is not expected to be available for another couple of weeks, at least. Adding Zubar to the list of downed defenders doesn't put RBNY into a crisis at the back, but it does gently increase the pressure on Marsch's rotation plans.
News of the severity of Zubar's latest knock will be among the more important details we can expect to hear out of RBNY training this week, even if he probably wasn't going to play against Real Salt Lake on June 22 anyway.