Before this match got underway many pundits thought this match would be a loss for the New York Red Bulls. At best, perhaps, a draw. After 60 minutes or so, it seemed increasingly like the match would yield on of those two outcomes. The Red Bulls were rocked by three injuries that saw all subs deployed by necessity by the 47th minute. If injury-ravaged RBNY could cling on to a scoreless draw, it would be doing well under the unusual circumstances of the game it found itself in.
All expectations were validated at the final whistle: the Red Bulls did indeed settle for a point in LA.
Strike that. They never "settled" for anything in this game. They had three players taken from them by injury, seized two goals from their hosts, coughed up two goals in the last 10 minutes of the match, grudgingly left behind two points, and almost certainly lost Jesse Marsch to suspension for the next match at home against the Montreal Impact.
The result was predictable for entirely unpredictable reasons, and with quite unexpected consequences.
Just as it seemed RBNY's best hope was to hold out for the draw, Gonzalo Veron - the seemingly permanently injured or out-of-form Designated Player, whose best has never got closer than "yet to come" for the club - scored an exquisite goal in a time of great need for his team. In short, he did what he signed to do.
Gonzalo Veron gives RBNY a 1-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/0KOnh2c9dh— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 8, 2016
It was a fantastic pass by Sacha Kljestan, but Veron still had a lot to do to get the ball in the net. With a man on him and Brian Rowe coming off his line, the Argentine attacker's first touch was perfect. It both forced Rowe to come out as it pushed the ball well beyond the back line, and it ensured Veron couldn't be bodied off the ball by his marker because it was clear he wasn't on the ball any more. And then he got to the ball before Rowe, and deftly lifted it into the goal.
Now the Red Bulls were expected to cling on to a one-goal lead for the remaining 20-odd minutes.
But the Red Bulls wanted more. And more arrived just six minutes later. Sean Davis was able to convert his first career MLS Goal. Mike Grella found Felipe near the top of the area, and the Brazilian slipped a quick pass into space for Davis. The former Duke player proceeded to make something quite difficult look very easy.
Sean Davis with his first MLS Goal! RBNY have a 2-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/gl4wJzwZOV— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 8, 2016
And now the beat-up, road-hexed Red Bulls were expected to kick on and win a game against the in-form Galaxy.
Expectations were being crushed as quickly as they had time to form by this stage of the game. The Galaxy were able to make substitutions and those subs brought fresh legs the Red Bulls could not match, since all their replacements were deployed in the service of attending to earlier crises.
Mike Magee pulled one back in the 80th minute on a poor clearance, when an exhausted Grella slipped and whiffed at the ball. Nine minutes later, Ashley Cole had the equalizer for LA.
That's how the match ended for both sides: 2-2. Normally you would take a point after a hard fought game like this. Not this time. This time, you're left scratching your head, wondering if the Red Bulls should've had at least two penalties and if the Galaxy deserved to be down a man.
Jeff Larentowicz was allowed to remain on the field for the Galaxy without a single booking was tagged to his name despite the fact he hacked down Damien Perrinelle recklessly in the 26th minute, forcing the RBNY defender from the game, and then showed studs on a challenge against Kemar Lawrence that connected with his left leg in the 55th minute.
Somehow Hilario Grajeda forgot to pull out his yellow cards on both challenges by Larentowicz. The veteran left the game for Baggio Husidic, who picked up pretty much where Larentowicz had left off.
To add insult to the injuries already sustained, Galaxy keeper Brenden Rowe challenged both Alex Muyl and Gonzalo Veron in the area for the ball and took down both men. Both challenges were clear penalties, but neither was punished.
If this is the level of officiating that the Red Bulls are going to receive throughout the rest of the league season then PRO is failing the team. We have seen reckless challenges go unpunished, more possible injuries, more players possibly out for the post-season, and more pressure on a squad that has to contest loss CONCACAF Champions League as well this season.
If RBNY struggles in CCL, don't blame it on fixture congestion or salary caps or the club's priorities. Blame it on the fact the Red Bulls' roster is being steadily decimated by a succession of hard and harder challenges on its players, mostly unchecked by MLS's referees.
There have been too many poor decisions by these refs. At the start of the season the league asked its officials to crack down on reckless challenges and make stronger calls, but as we have seen in this particular match, that policy has now given way to something closer to a barely supervised free-for-all.
I can understand a bit why Grajeda tried not to be the focal point of the game, but sadly all he succeeded in doing was ducking the big decisions, compromising the match, and making himself the focal point of the game.
Jesse Marsch has every right to complain about seeing his players knocked around. Hopefully Damien Perrinelle, Connor Lade & Bradley Wright-Phillips will be able to train later in the week. Whether they are fit or not, Marsch will be suspended for one complaint too many from his technical area. He was sent off late in the game and will miss next week's match against Montreal Impact.
The Red Bulls must focus on not missing the goals of their season, a task complicated by the continuing efforts of MLS officials to allow RBNY to quite literally be knocked off course.