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Why Did The New York Red Bulls Blow Another Lead on the Road and What Will They Do About It?

RBNY took another lead on road this past Sunday and, again, they lost it. What gives?

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Once again, the New York Red Bulls went into someone else’s stadium. Once again, the Red Bulls took the lead in someone else’s house. Once again, New York coughed up a lead on the road.

The latest blown lead came last Sunday night against the LA Galaxy. On this occasion, RBNY took a 2-0 second-half lead only to concede to the Galaxy twice in the final 10 minutes to leave Carson with one point instead of all three.

This is hardly the first time this has happened in 2016.

It all began in June where the Red Bulls blew leads in three-straight games.

In MLS play, there was the 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake that saw New York give up goals in the 65th and 88th minutes and the 1-1 draw to Columbus Crew SC where RBNY took a 1-0 lead into injury time when Ola Kamara equalized for the hosts. And in the U.S. Open Cup, New York saw first half dominance over the Philadelphia Union come completely undone in a five-minute span that saw RBNY’s 1-0 lead turn into a 2-1 loss and an exit in the Round of 16 of this year’s competition.

::Cue Swizz Beatz::

We’re not done!

The Red Bulls’ struggles with holding road leads followed them into July in another game at Philly that saw New York up the ante on the nature of the lead they blew. This time, RBNY gave up a 2-0 halftime lead in a two-minute span in the second half.

This performance was particularly egregious because not only did the Red Bulls squander the two-goal lead, they played the final two minutes of the game up a man, and head coach Jesse Marsch still had to put his team into a defensive shell to repeal the Philadelphia attack.

A trip to the Chicago Fire on the last day of July saw New York both blow a first half lead and scramble back to salvage a draw through a 90th-minute goal from BWP.

It’s now August and it happened in California.

Despite losing Damien Perrinelle, Connor Lade and Bradley Wright-Phillips to injury, the Red Bulls took a 2-0 lead through goals from Gonzalo Veron and Sean Davis only to give goals to Mike McGee in the 80th minute and Ashley Cole in the 89th.

Why is this happening?

It may be obvious and easy to say that it’s the defense's fault and, frankly, it is. However, why it has been the defense’s fault may not be so obvious.

It all comes back to consistency and the lack thereof along RBNY’s backline.

Throughout 2015, Marsch was able to rely on a pretty consistent starting XI game in and game out. While the New York head coach has been able to rely on a mostly consistent group in midfield and up front (2015 mainstays Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, Mike Grella, Dax McCarty and Felipe have all made 23+ appearances in 2016), the back line has been a revolving door pretty much since opening day.

One of the major keys to the success of RBNY’s high-press is having all 10 outfield players move in unison. When one of the midfielders pushes up the field that leaves an open space that must be filled by a defender. But only if that defender is in tune with the movement and match-fit to be able continuously cover those gaps over 90 minutes.

Due to the constant changes in the back line, it has been nearly impossible for the Red Bulls to build any cohesion similar to that of last season.

Let’s take a look at some of the red flags that have contributed to the blown leads:
  • June 22 at RSL: New York’s backline featured Baah, who hadn’t played a full 90 minutes since March, at center back and Justin Bilyeu at left back who was making his first MLS start after spending most of his 2016 with New York Red Bulls II in USL.
  • June 26 at Columbus: Baah, who played his fist full 90 minutes in three months two days prior made the quick turnaround to play the full 90 against Crew SC. The heavy minutes took a toll on the Ghanaian as he pulled up lame on the play that resulted in Kamara’s equalizer.
  • Sal Zizzo has already made more starts and played more minutes in 2016 than he has in his entire MLS career. It’s been pretty evident that the right back has hit a bit of wall as he’s looked a step slow lately and was caught woefully out of position Sunday night as Galaxy left back Ashely Cole was free to equalize.
  • Then we have the curious case of Connor Lade. Before tearing the ACL in his right knee and ending his season on Sunday night, Lade had re-established himself as a fan-favorite and a mainstay at either fullback position. Lade saw most of his minutes at left back filling in admirably for a then-injured Kemar Lawrence. However, there have a been times, particularly the two games against Philadelphia where Morristown, NJ native seemed to simply run out of gas, leaving huge chunks of space open for the Union to attack. Lade’s can-do attitude make him a quality role player for any MLS team, but his physical limitations come back to bite him over a long haul.
In May, I wrote a piece focusing solely on issues for the Red Bulls at center back. Since then, the addition of Aurelien Collin has been a masterstroke by Ali Curtis, but Baah has been lost for the season due to a broken leg. And then the injury bug hit again Sunday night against LA as the aforementioned Lade was lost for the season, and Perrinelle was knocked out for the next four-to-six weeks with knee and ankle injuries.

Any hope the Red Bulls had at achieving any amount of defensive stability has again been thrown out the window. Will Jesse Marsch find any defensive consistency from Collin, Lawrence, Zizzo, Bilyeu, Ronald Zubar, Chris Duvall and perhaps, Aaron Long as they aim for an MLS Cup Playoff berth and advancement out of the CONCACAF Champions League?