What might have started as an injury-induced blip in form for the New York Red Bulls has become a full-blown crisis.
Gerhard Struber’s team rarely threatened after a devastating pair of goals from Luka Stojanovic in the opening minutes set the stage for a 2-1 loss to Chicago Fire at Soldier Field. Tom Barlow pulled one back for New York in the game’s closing moments, but in all reality the game was rarely in doubt for Chicago. After reaching a seeming crescendo of form with an away win in Orlando a month ago, the Red Bulls are now winless in six matches and five points out of a playoff spot.
The events of the game do not inspire a great deal of prose from a Red Bulls perspective. Stojanovic first shocked New York in the game’s second minute by collecting a cushioned reception from striker Chinoso Offor just outside the box and blasting a shot past Carlos Coronel. Just six minutes later it would be Stojanovic again, this time lurking at the far post jumping on a flicked header from a throw-in to smash into Coronel’s goal again and leave New York facing 80 minutes of pain.
Cristian Cásseres was sluggish in defending Stojanovic on the second goal, and was removed from the match ten minutes later in what Gerhard Struber claimed post-match was a fitness-based decision. Left back Andrew Gutman replaced Cásseres in the lineup, while starting left back John Tolkin shifted over to replace Cásseres’ role in the midfield.
Tolkin put in a bright shift in the middle of the park for the remainder of the game, but as with the rest of New York’s performance it was not enough to dig out of the steep early hole. The midfield (missing Dru Yearwood through yellow card suspension and Frankie Amaya through...apparently not being worth the million-plus fee he cost) was rarely able to build against a Chicago team more than happy to sit back. Forwards Fábio and Patryk Klimala struggled to collect telegraphed long balls, many of which were curiously delivered by Amro Tarek, perhaps the lineup’s least technical player.
All in all it was yet another chore of a match for fans to watch as the team struggles through a nightmare month of injuries, postponements, and shock concessions. While a weaker, less-organized team might have allowed such a dire opening to collapse into a 4-0 or 5-0 result, the team’s continued turgid form is a cause for concern.
Gerhard Struber is increasingly struggling for answers as a season that only a month ago appeared on the brink of new heights has now become stuck in a quagmire. The Austrian now has a 5-4-9 record since officially taking control of the team last November.
“It’s one more time, a big lesson for my group, for me, and my coaching staff. We expected a tough game away, but in the end, we crashed our mindset with some mistakes in the first eight minutes...what I missed in the first, especially the first 10 minutes was the right organization. We maybe have not the right behavior in some actions, and it has crashed a little bit (the gameplan.)”
Tom Edwards, yet again playing a tenacious-but-limited 90 minutes in central defense, repeated his manager’s assessment of the situation and how the game’s opening 10 minutes left the team’s plans in tatters.
“I feel like the only thing that is sad about the situation that happened is we were caught off guard, we were not ready when we should have been. We had the laptop before the game, obviously in the week, but we just let ourselves fall asleep.”
Edwards however was quick to remind observers that this same team has been capable of good form in the recent past and that confidence remains that it can be reached again.
“I feel like it is just coming together as a team, get back to what we were doing in the games where we were getting results. We just need to go back to the basics and get them right and then we can start expanding from there.”
The players have been consistently admirable in not indulging them, but there certainly are some excuses for what is still only a month of bad form. The Red Bulls have been rocked by a series of injuries in central defense and saw a thoroughly-winnable momentum shifter against last place Inter Miami three weeks ago stolen by a thunderstorm. Gerhard Struber has maintained his mantra of taking steps in a process, and certainly the scope of the project he and front office counterpart Kevin Thelwell were installed for is much broader than a dodgy month of results.
But 9th place can’t possibly be what Struber and Thelwell were recruited to accomplish, and results are becoming increasingly untenable. With the season now beyond its halfway point, New York’s decade-long playoff qualification streak is somehow at risk. Were that streak to be broken, any consolation about progress in pressing structures and individual development would fall on the deafest of ears.