The New York Red Bulls picked up a point on the road in Columbus, which is not a bad thing. But they had three points taken from them by the Crew, who found a stoppage-time equalizer - which is never a good thing. Fans weren't happy, players perhaps even less so:
So frustrating. Unacceptable to not close that game out and get 3 pts. Hurts right now but have to recover and focus on Philly. Huge game.— Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11) June 26, 2016
Tonight, this result is hard to swallow, thanks to our fans for the support and safe trip to those who came here @NewYorkRedBulls ⚽️— zubar Ronald (@zubarronald) June 26, 2016
But the schedule rolls on regardless. RBNY must now focus on US Open Cup and the Philadelphia Union. Once A Metro will pause to consider a few thoughts that occurred in the aftermath of the Red Bulls' latest disappointing road result.
Jesse Marsch has been bolstering RBNY's defense with five at the back when there is a lead to defend for a while now; recently, however, it has become less an occasional tactical tweak and more a compulsion.
Part of the reason is specific to the particular circumstances of the current run of games: in the last three league matches, RBNY has been up 1-0 heading past the 60th minute of the match, and Marsch has elected to bring in a fifth defender to try to hold the lead and (presumably) reduce the demands on his players made by the team's regular all-out gegenpressing.
This a crowded moment on the Red Bulls' calendar, and the head coach has clearly decided he can't simply expect his players to sustain their energy during a relentless run of games (one every three or four days from June 15 to July 3) in the hottest part of the year. When the opportunity presents itself, he's guiding the team to a less aggressive mode of play - and that opportunity happens to have presented itself in the last three matches.
Against Seattle Sounders, it worked like a charm. RBNY scored its second before Aurelien Collin even got on the pitch as the fifth defender, and the Red Bulls seemed to control possession and the tempo of the game with little difficulty. Against Real Salt Lake, it was less successful: RSL scored almost soon as Chris Duvall entered the field as the extra man at the back. The home team proceeded to dominate the game, got a go-ahead goal off the sort of deflection that happens when your defenders are pinned in their own 18-yard box, and more panic in the defensive third saw Aurelien Collin sent off (unjustly).
In this game, Jesse Marsch waited a little longer than has been customary (until the 70th minute rather than closer to the 60th), but the effect on the game was much the same as it had been against RSL: when the pressure of RBNY's relentless pressing was lifted, the home team surged forward. The Red Bulls clung on much more effectively than they had against RSL, aided by some fortunate blocks from their center backs and wayward shooting by Columbus. It appeared as though the tactic had worked - just - until Gideon Baah went down in injury time. The pause in play added a few minutes to the clock and allowed the Crew to regroup; RBNY had no subs left so Baah had little choice but to stay in the game (he would be taken off the field shortly before the final whistle): Ola Kamara stole in behind the hobbled defense to tap home a cross that skimmed into the six-yard box.
There are only so many times one can say a team has been unlucky. RBNY is not anywhere near the catastrophic awfulness that plagued it at the start of this season, it has simply dropped points on the road during a very tough run of road games. Twice. In back-to-back games.
The confidence the team displayed (at home) against Seattle seems a long way off, and it was only a week ago. Since then, we've seen five-at-the-back come into play at roughly the same stage of the game twice more, and we've seen it fail on both occasions.
One wouldn't fault Marsch for sticking with the plan - since he's been using it regularly and with generally good results - and nor would one fault fans for greeting its next appearance with some anxiety. It's an adjustment devised to hold a lead, which is a good thing. And it's one that hasn't worked on its last two attempts, which is less encouraging.
2. Get well soon, Gideon
Gideon Baah started his second successive game and finally looked like the player who started for RBNY at the beginning of the season. His promising form was cut short by injury in mid-March and it has been a long road back to the starting lineup for the 24-year-old.
The game did not end well for him:
Get well soon, Gideon.
3. Alex Muyl is taking his chance
Alex Muyl picked up an assist on RBNY's goal, finding Bradley Wright-Phillips with a well-placed cross.
The homegrown rookie has been a regular in the match-day squad for a while now (this was his 12th appearance of the season), but he has been a fixture over the last four games: coming off the bench in USOC against Rochester and in MLS against Seattle; starting the last two consecutive matches.
He is some distance from being considered a first-choice starter - one suspects his place in the lineup against the Crew was largely because Marsch plans to start Lloyd Sam against Philadelphia in US Open Cup. And there is no need to burden him with elevated expectations when his first-team career comprises 12 appearances, two assists, and one goal. But he is coming along nicely in his rookie year, and is currently the fringe player in the squad who has clearly done the most to win his coach's confidence in the first half of the season.