It is often said consistency is the hallmark of great teams. By that measure, the 2016 New York Red Bulls are already champions. Unfortunately, they are champions of dropping points on the road.
For the fourth time in their last four road games, RBNY is heading home from an away-day with a 2-2 draw. For the second time in a row, it is a 2-2 away draw that feels like points lost because the Red Bulls had a 2-0 lead that was allowed to slip. It is the same old story - and it has become a tired old story.
On a brighter note, the attack has woken up over the course of the current eight-game unbeaten streak in the league. That streak started with a 0-0 draw against Portland. Since then, RBNY has scored 17 goals in seven MLS matches.
In this one, the Red Bulls perhaps got a little lucky. They did not look sharp at kick off, but only nine minutes of play were possible before heavy weather forced the game to be suspended. When the match finally got going again, abetted by a waterlogged field that took the spring out of everyone's step, RBNY looked better able to keep up with D.C. United.
Indeed, it was the Red Bulls who benefited most first and most obviously from the conditions. Shortly after an embarrassing encounter with a puddle on the pitch...
Oh dear..., pic.twitter.com/gLVCUx83m0— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 21, 2016
...Mike Grella pounced on Sean Franklin's misfortune, breaking into the box to cross to Bradley Wright-Phillips. The Red Bulls' all-time leading scorer didn't miss.
BWP gives RBNY a 1-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/ftw1kuP6DQ— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 21, 2016
The lead held to half-time. Next, in the 64th minute, Felipe delivered one of his thunderous net-busters to double the Red Bulls' lead.
Goal! Felipe makes it 2-0 RBNY!!! pic.twitter.com/ZjRcZCXswh— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 21, 2016
And if there was any doubt as to which team was making the best of the conditions, Felipe's celebration settled it.
But DC United would convert twice within a span of three minutes as the Red Bulls once again coughed up the lead. A penalty was awarded to DC as Lloyd Sam cannily drew a foul from Kemar Lawrence.
Penalty to DCU! pic.twitter.com/xViyQL9sWp— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 21, 2016
And it was converted by Marcelo Sarvas in the 70th minute.
Sarvas converts to make it 2-1 RBNY. pic.twitter.com/jLqA2IIkLk— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 21, 2016
Then Patrick Mullins popped up in the 73rd minute to level the scores.
Mullins ties it up for DCU! IT's 2-2! pic.twitter.com/54tC8PgELA— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 21, 2016
"It's tough. because on one level it's a really gutsy, hard competitive strong performance, and if you can walk away with three points you feel good about it. But the fact that we managed to let them back in," said Jesse Marsch, "It has everybody searching for answers."
"There's two ways to look at this," he continued, "You can really look hard and talk about all the little details and try to figure out how to put your finger on it, but I feel like it's something different. Either a penalty, a free kick or on set pieces and I feel like here we go again. My question as the coach is how do I use my subs and how do I encourage them? The hope is that to use these situations stronger, but until then it's a bit concerning."
There are indeed two ways to look at it. On the one hand, RBNY is unbeaten in eight and winning at home while taking ties on the road. That is Shield-winning form over a whole season, and it's a good recipe for playoff success. On the other hand, the team keeps dropping points on the road, keeps coughing up winning positions. That speaks, perhaps, to a mental fragility that does not bode well for the post-season.
In a peculiar way, the Red Bulls have started their post-season early. The dropped points have pretty much taken the Supporters' Shield out of play. The focus is simply on making the playoffs with as high a seed as possible. And to do that, since the leads keep slipping away on the road, the team keeps coming back to Red Bull Arena for what feel like must-win games.
Next up is New England Revolution, next Sunday at home. And once again, the Red Bulls need to make home advantage count, because they can't count on anything on the road.