As they are wont to do, the New York Red Bulls started this game firing on all cylinders. As they are wont to do, RBNY slumped in the second half: not just coughing up a lead on the road, but very specifically watching Philadelphia Union score twice in the second half at Talen Energy Stadium. Last time this happened - which was only three weeks ago - the Red Bulls were bounced out of US Open Cup. This time, they didn't lose, but they did drop a two-goal lead in a manner just as deflating as the preceding second-half slump suffered in Chester, PA.
It all started very well for the Red Bulls. They came out pressing hard and high, finding ways to keep the home-team Union on its heels. Before kick-off, Sacha Kljestan found out he was added to the MLS All-Star Game Roster against Arsenal, and the match reports were writing themselves when he celebrated the news with a first-half brace.
Kljestan's opener came in the 27th minute after Bradley Wright-Phillips harried the Union back line into a turnover, caught sign of his teammate making a run and played the ball into Sacha's path to set up a shot at goal. Kljestan smoothly beat 'keeper Andre Blake: 1-0 to RBNY.
The second came late in the first half. RBNY earned a free kick, the ever-present dummy runners at the set piece did their job - causing a little confusion in the Union's defense - and Kljestan pinged his kick straight at goal. The ball deflected off of Tranquillo Barnetta, wrong-footing Blake and sending the Red Bulls into half-time with a 2-0 lead.
Perhaps it was the knowledge of what happened last time RBNY took a lead into the second half at Talen EnergY Stadium that affected the visitors in the second half. Whatever the reason, the Red Bulls came out for the second 45 hoping not to let the Union surge back into the match - and did exactly what they were trying to avoid.
In the 66th minute, a penalty was called for the Union after Sal Zizzo took down Chris Pontius in the area. C.J. Sapong would blast it past Robles in the 67th minute- and whatever mental fortitude the Red Bulls had gathered in the locker room at half-time simply dissipated. In the next minute, Pontius would convert into an empty net as the entire RBNY back line flocked to the near side to stop a Fabien Herbers cross and missed the ball.
Fate taunted RBNY. At 2-2 with the game seemingly tilted against them, the Red Bulls got a lifeline. Ilsinho was shown a straight red card in the 72nd minute for putting his arm up into the face of Connor Lade. But the advantage of an extra man became a burden as RBNY could not turn it to their benefit. The Red Bulls continued to lose the ball, lose their shape and lose their nerve. Meanwhile the Union - down to 10 men - looked in no mod to stop attacking, and kept finding space for the counter in search of a third goal.
The Red Bulls didn't lose. The final whistle blew on a 2-2 draw. Not a bad result on the road, but the RBNY players know they failed in the task of not letting a lead slip against this opponent.
"Well I actually think the start of the first half was good and we actually have chances. We have a chance to make it three and I think then the game is done. All four goals that have been scored on us here are the same thing," said Jesse Marsch.
"Until we figure out how to deal with some of these moments," the RBNY head coach continued, "it's going to feel like a long year. On the road, we just find ways to shoot ourselves in the foot. We've gotten leads, we've played well for major stretches, we've been the better team for major stretches, and we have walked away with very few results.
So until we start to figure out how to handle games and moments better then it's going to feel like we are starting at square one every time we start on the road. It's going to be hard to build a momentum in the season. And all that being said, it's hard being up 2-0 and then walk away with just a point. But a point is still a good result, this is a good team at home, but it doesn't feel like that, it feels like a loss."
The Red Bulls' woes on the road continue. Marsch needs to get back to the drawing board to fix whatever issue it is that is afflicting RBNY on its travels. But first it's back to Red Bull Arena next week to face NYCFC. The quickest remedy to the Red Bulls' problems is to stay strong at home.