The New York Red Bulls knew this would be a difficult stretch for them. After a Father's Day victory at home against the Seattle Sounders, the team is on the road four times within a two week span: starting with this mid-week match up at Real Salt Lake, then flying back across the country to face the Columbus Crew, then a US Open Cup 5th Round match at Philadelphia, and finally another trip to the Bronx on 4th of July Weekend.
But a solid start was undermined by a poor finish, and cost them a central defender, as the Red Bulls slumped to a 2-1 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night. After an early goal by Gideon Baah, the Red Bulls looked to be in complete control till Marsch decided to sub out Gonzalo Veron with defender Chris Duvall in the 63rd minute. Almost immediately, RSL began to take advantage.
Two minutes after the substitution, lone striker Yura Movsisyan found a way to break through the bolstered back line, tracking a long ball towards goal. He equalized with a perfectly placed header to beat Luis Robles.
On the replay it looked as though he was just in an offside position when the ball was played, but that was not the refereeing decision that would stick in fans' memories after the match.
RSL's second goal was uncontroversial. The game was edging toward its close when second-half substitute Jordan Allen got inside the top of the area and shot hard at the near post. Sadly, Duvall got half a foot to the ball and deflected the shot to the far post after Robles had committed to the original trajectory of the shot. It was a dagger to the hearts of a Red Bulls' team that had seen its lead taken from it but seemed to be destined to at least claim a point.
The 2-1 loss didn't just hurt RBNY's immediate return from its efforts on the field in Utah, it also reduced the team's options for the next game in Columbus. Shortly after RSL scored its match-winner, Aurelien Collin was shown a straight red for a clean tackle. Fotis Bazakos called for a foul outside the area on Sean Davis along the near side, and then calmly red-carded Collin for a much tidier tackle inside the box. It wasn't the only baffling decision the referee made on the night, but it was the most significant (though it didn't affect the game; RBNY was forlornly chasing a late equalizer into stoppage time when Collin left the field).
"I'm really happy with how the guys played, it was a short turnaround so we put some fresh bodies out there and a lot of them had good games." said Jesse Marsch, "Then they tied it up and got unlucky with a deflection goal so all in all I'm happy with the overall effort and disappointed for them because we didn't get the result."
Give Marsch credit: he put out a starting eleven that was a bit different, gave a few key players a rest, and saw his novel lineup hold a lead into the last 30 minutes of the game. Anatole Abang started up top; Lloyd Sam played centrally in the spot traditionally occupied by Sacha Kljestan; Alex Muyl was on the right; Gonzalo Veron was on the left; Sean Davis took over for Dax McCarty; Luis Robles wore the captain's armband; Gideon Baah was the center back partner for Collin; Justin Bilyeu got the start at left back: you would have forgiven this lineup for struggling, but it held its own until the first substitution.
Though there were signs of a lack of understanding between the attacking players in particular, the well-drilled Red Bulls went toe-to-toe with an in-form RSL team for most of the match, even if the game tilted precipitously toward the home team as the second half went on. A deflection was the difference between applauding the coach's confidence in his squad's depth and cursing his decision to try to defend a 1-0 lead from the 63rd minute.
There was a scary moment the 9th minute: Luis Robles went to punch a ball away from a corner kick and collided with RSL's Sunny in the process. The Nigerian midfielder took a blow to the head - and we can only hope he will make a full recovery and get back on the field for RSL soon.
So it is a disappointing start to the extended road trip. RBNY has lost its winning streak, finally conceded after successfully defending 472 scoreless minutes, and lost a key central defender (subject to appeal, one would think). The Red Bulls limp back east to face Columbus Crew. Current form suggests the Crew is a weaker side than RSL, but Marsch's decision to rest most of the core of his preferred starting lineup suggests the RBNY head coach wants his favorites on the field in Columbus.