The New York Red Bulls' first game since parting company with Lloyd Sam was a welcome return to home ground after a grueling and dispiriting winless, four-game road trip. The injury-riddled Portland Timbers couldn't put anything past Luis Robles or the backline, but the Red Bulls couldn't get anything past Jake Gleeson and this match ended in a scoreless draw.
In Sam's absence, there has been a lot of talk of Gonzalo Veron, one of two Designated Players on the RBNY roster, stepping up to claim the regular start we've been assuming he'd get almost from the day he signed. Veron did get the start, and while these was some miscommunication out there, he made dangerous runs and found his teammates with some threatening crosses on a few occasions.
Unexpectedly, Felipe was the Red Bulls' most consistent threat on goal. Veron, Mike Grella and Bradley Wright-Phillips - nominally RBNY's front three - combined for four shots, none on target. Felipe had four of his own, and three were on frame. But Gleeson stood up to everything the Red Bulls threw at him.
So both sides got a point, which was better for Portland than for the Red Bulls. For some, the question is whether RBNY has lost confidence after the Copa America Centenario Break, because its form has dipped precipitously over the last few weeks.
"Overall on the day we have a lot of half chances, we have a lot of chances and created a lot of opportunities and it wasn't quite good enough on the day," said Jesse Marsch, "Talking to some of the guys in the locker room, was it a confidence issue, was it a lack of sharpness or a little bit of both? We got to still have a lot of belief on this team so at the end of the day we can push hard and get a result. Towards the end we did, but I thought we could've done more at the start of the second half."
On another day, whatever issues are affecting the Red Bulls up front might have been compounded by the team's misfortune at the back. The luckless Gideon Baah went to the ground in the first half, apparently aggravating the same injury that hobbled in RBNY's match in Columbus two weeks ago. This signaled the return of French center back Damien Perrinelle to MLS. He has played in a couple of USL games for NYRB II and in the friendly win against Club America as part of a gentle reintroduction to the first team. Called off the bench more abruptly than had been planned, he looked like he hadn't lost a step.
"It's an amazing feeling. First of all I want to thank all my teammates, to all the Red Bulls Staff. It's a very good feeling and I wasn't expecting to play this game, but it was nice," said Perrinelle, "Not so many minutes but, I thought I was going to play five in the back at the end of the game.
I was ready from the start [when Gideon Baah went down with the injury], because I expect this kind of thing, this wasn't the first time it happened with me, when I am on the bench I expect to be ready."
The best of Perrinelle was on display in the 85th minute when he made a fantastic tackle on Fanendo Adi. But the center back made several timely interventions that suggested he has not lost anything but time to injury.
But the result extends a troubling streak for the Red Bulls: winless in their last five with just two points and two goals scored in that stretch. They will try to turn it around on Wednesday, July 13, when they host Orlando City - an opponent dealing with a little turmoil of its own, having just fired head coach Adrian Heath. Maybe RBNY's luck will change.