Sunday’s eagerly anticipated clash between Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City and second-placed New York Red Bulls at Livestrong Sporting Park resulted in a damp squib. Hans Backe, the head coach of the most extravagant roster in Major League Soccer’s history, sealed that fate by choosing to park the Red Bulls’ bus in front of their goal.
A glaring first-half error by Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen allowed the Red Bulls to escape with a 1-1 tie as the unfortunate Kei Kamara bundled the ball into his own net to cancel out his game opener for the hosts. New York took 65 minutes to register the first of their two goal attempts. They failed to find the target and didn’t even earn a single corner kick.
Backe’s side could even have stolen the win in stoppage time when Dax McCarty found himself one-on-one with Nielsen following a lung-bursting breakaway. Fittingly, the midfielder failed to muster a shot on goal.
The two sides play at Red Bull Arena on Sept. 19 and Oct. 20 – two games carrying huge significance for the final play-off rankings. Red Bulls players were happy to avoid defeat in Kansas City and to have those upcoming meetings at home where they boast a 9-0-3 record this season. Sporting Head Coach Peter Vermes cannot be too disappointed either. It’s unlikely his team will face a seven-man wall strung across New York’s 18-yard line when they travel to Harrison, N.J.
Sporting’s Opener Comes At Heavy Price For Bunbury
Modern soccer trends have evolved such that progressive coaches seek ways to incorporate four or five skilled offensive players into their line-ups. The introduction of the back-pass rule and a shift toward cautioning players for the slightest of contact are among the factors that have tipped the game in favor of adventurous, attacking sides. Backe remains welded to his reactionary, conservative ways.
The Swede had the players at his disposal to attack Kansas City Sunday, even in Thierry Henry’s absence. Joel Lindpere was left on the bench. Sebastien Le Toux, whose best work in MLS has come as a forward, played deep on the right of midfield. That left Kenny Cooper as an isolated striker with Tim Cahill tasked with breaking in support whenever possible.
Wilman Conde and Jan Gunnar Solli occupied unfamiliar territory down New York’s left side to combat the marauding runs of Sporting right-back Chance Myers. Finnish international Teemu Tainio sat behind McCarty and Cahill to provide another line of defense in front of the back four.
Defensive numbers still need to be organized. That wasn’t the case for New York when Kamara put Sporting ahead within four minutes. Graham Zusi picked up a loose ball near the halfway line and swiftly launched a long pass over the Red Bulls’ back line. Markus Holgersson had a five-yard start on Teal Bunbury, yet the Sporting forward outpaced and outmuscled the Swede before flicking the ball around onrushing goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. Kamara headed into an unguarded net from 18 yards.
Puerto Rican international Gaudette left himself stranded outside the penalty area, and his subsequent collision with Bunbury left the unfortunate youngster with a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee.
Nielsen’s Hesitancy Gifts Equalizer For Red Bulls
Gaudette’s erroneous decision wasn’t nearly as glaring as Nielsen’s error that led to New York’s equalizer on 28 minutes. The Red Bulls hadn’t sniffed a scoring chance when Myers committed an unnecessary foul on Solli out on the touchline. Le Toux’s deep free kick floated too close to the six-yard line and should have easily been plucked out of the sky by the 6-foot-3-inch Dane.
Nielsen surprisingly took a couple of steps back toward his goal line from his starting position on the six-yard box as Cahill darted forward tracked by Kamara. The Sierra Leonean had to attack the ball, yet he succeeded in diverting it past his marooned goalkeeper.
Combative Collin Fortunate To Avoid Seeing Red
Aurelien Collin has been an important factor behind Sporting holding the league’s best defensive record this year. The Frenchman has the speed to get into the optimum defensive position, the height and athleticism to dominate in the air, and a masochistic longing to engage in physical warfare with his opponents. The last trait can also be his downfall.
New York’s stoutness in open play heightened Sporting’s focus to break them down via Kamara and Collin’s heading ability at corner kicks and from Matt Besler’s long throws. Collin shrugged aside Solli to earn a free header from Zusi’s outswinging corner on 27 minutes. His effort flew straight at Gaudette.
The former Vitoria Setubal defender’s troubles began on 35 minutes when he caught Heath Pearce with his raised arm as he launched himself at Myers’ cross. That earned him his sixth yellow card of the season.
A second booking could have arrived just four minutes later when a near identical challenge left Conde grounded. Referee Hilario Grajeda let this pass, but Vermes hastily called his player to the touchline to administer a stern admonishment.
Collin’s concentration looked momentarily rattled. Cahill caught him being too casual on the edge of Sporting’s penalty area on 43 minutes and slipped the ball inside to McCarty. Julio Cesar’s excellent slide tackle prevented the Red Bulls midfielder from executing his team’s first shot of the evening.
New York Begins To Threaten On Rare Breakaways
Sporting’s struggles to connect their passes in the final third continued in the second half as Solli, Tainio and Le Toux joined New York’s back four in a line across the penalty area with McCarty and Cahill harrying around the top of the box. Sheer weight of numbers made it virtually impossible for Kamara, Zusi and substitute C.J. Sapong to create space with their clockwork crossover runs, and midfield duo Roger Espinoza and Paulo Nagamura’s attempts to surge forward couldn’t break Backe’s bulwark.
Le Toux squandered a rare opportunity on 60 minutes when he couldn’t pick the right pass to either Cooper or McCarty to exploit a 3-vs-3 breakaway, and the former Vancouver Whitecap wasted a glorious opening five minutes later when New York finally created a goalscoring chance. McCarty continued his forward run after laying the ball to Solli on the halfway line, and Tainio found the combative midfielder streaking behind Collin down the left of Sporting’s penalty area. McCarty’s cutback found Le Toux open near the penalty spot with a clear sight of goal. The Frenchman blazed his effort high into the stand.
Sporting were now walking a tightrope with the Red Bulls showing signs of being capable of launching a counter. Espinoza’s frustrations resulted in him being cautioned for kicking the ball away after McCarty’s excellent backtracking into New York’s penalty area saw him deny the Honduran a shooting chance.
Lindpere made an appearance on 70 minutes, but Backe wasn’t becoming bolder. Cooper was withdrawn, Le Toux moved up front and Solli switched to the right flank.
Kamara netted Sporting’s game-winner in their previous outing with a 25-yard free kick at Toronto F.C. A similar effort fizzed by Gaudette’s right post on 80 minutes. The 27-year-old then showed his spectacular leaping ability to soar above Holgersson one minute later, but he couldn’t keep his header underneath the crossbar.
McCarty Fluffs His Big Moment To Snatch Three Points
Vermes’ side continued to push for the victory while New York bedded in, happy with the tie and hoping that their opponents would over-commit. Le Toux broke away on 88 minutes, but his intended pass to the supporting McCarty landed dreadfully short of the mark. The pair did link up in the fourth minute of stoppage time to engineer the chance that should have stolen all three points.
Le Toux hooked a corner away from the edge of New York’s penalty area into the path of McCarty before sprinting into space behind Seth Sinovic, Sporting’s sole defender back at the halfway line.
Myers caught the Frenchman in the final third and forced him to wait for support. It arrived when McCarty’s 80-yard run took him clear inside Sporting’s penalty area, and Le Toux teed up his teammate for the winner.
McCarty’s first touch bore the hallmarks of a defensive midfielder who’d made a box-to-box surge in stoppage time, and Myers nudged the ball to safety.
Aug. 13, 2012 — Sporting On Song Against D.C. To Reclaim East’s Top Spot
Aug. 8, 2012 — Backe, Red Bulls Chance For Redemption Against Houston
July 18, 2012 — Henry’s Searing Volley Scorches The Fire
July 16, 2012 — Backe Backtracks To Revive Red Bulls
April 20, 2012 — Magnificent Seven For Sporting After Vanquishing Vancouver