Crude Awakening For D.C. As Red Bulls Snatch Point

Written by Ian Thomson

It would scarcely have been possible for New York Red Bulls to repeat the impotency they showed in Kansas City during Wednesday’s clash with D.C. United at RFK Stadium.

Hans Backe’s side registered just two shots during Sunday’s 1-1 tie at Livestrong Sporting Park, neither one close to the target, and failed to force a single corner kick. Statistically, this was a vastly improved performance by New York to grab a 2-2 tie via Wilman Conde’s late equalizer. Yet the reactionary Backe, head coach of the most expensive roster ever assembled in Major League Soccer, still found a way to field an even more defensive line-up than he’d picked against Sporting.

Thierry Henry’s return following the birth of his son saw Backe reinstate his captain as the lone striker at the expense of top scorer Kenny Cooper. Henry’s propensity to drop deep into midfield often left the Red Bulls in a 4-6-0 formation: one more akin to Craig Levein’s Scotland than Vicente del Bosque’s Spain.

Henry’s dropping off commonly left the Red Bulls without an attacking threat in Backe’s cautious formation

Joel Lindpere replaced Sebastien Le Toux as a wide midfielder. The Estonian international was tasked with making long diagonal runs to support Henry whenever possible. New York’s strategy in the opening minutes seemed largely to depend on the phenomenal jumping ability of Australian designated player Tim Cahill from set pieces.

The former Everton midfielder shrugged off Marcelo Saragosa on seven minutes to meet Henry’s free kick near the edge of D.C.’s six-yard box. Cahill didn’t direct his header wide enough of Bill Hamid. The 21-year-old goalkeeper dived to push the ball away.

Cahill soared above Saragosa again two minutes later to meet another Henry free kick. This time he pushed his header beyond the far post with Hamid stranded.

D.C. were fortunate to be level. They fell behind on 19 minutes when Andy Najar showed his shortcomings as a makeshift right-back. There was little imminent danger when Henry received Teemu Tainio’s pass in the center circle with United’s back four perfectly positioned 35 yards from Hamid’s goal. Najar impetuously stepped out to confront the Frenchman, leaving Lindpere free behind him, and Henry slid a first-time pass into the space created. Lindpere took one touch before drilling his shot through Hamid’s grasp from 16 yards.

By stepping out, Najar (circled in black) left Henry with an easy pass to release Lindpere into space for New York’s opening goal

Olsen Switches Wingers To Bypass Swamped Midfield

Olsen switched D.C.’s wingers midway through the first half to use Pontius’ height advantage against Lade

The hosts were gifted a tame equalizer two minutes after Lindpere’s opener. Error-prone defender Markus Holgersson scuffed his attempted clearance from Chris Pontius’ cross to the edge of the penalty area. Dwayne De Rosario clipped a second ball in from the left of the box and rookie Nick DeLeon guided his side-foot volley toward the far post. Red Bulls’ goalkeeper Bill Gaudette let the ball slip past his fingers into the bottom corner.

United made a significant tactical change midway through the first half to allow them to bypass the congested midfield. Head Coach Ben Olsen switched his wide players, bringing the 6-foot Pontius to the left side against 5-foot-7-inch full-back Connor Lade. Center-back Brandon McDonald quickly exploited Pontius’ height advantage with two long right-to-left switches out of defense that allowed D.C. to gain territory.

Another Pontius flick on 32 minutes saw Lionard Pajoy fouled by Holgersson just outside New York’s penalty area. De Rosario curled his free kick narrowly over Gaudette’s crossbar. The Puerto Rican international made an instinctive save one minute later to prevent Tainio from whacking the ball into his own net while cutting out Pajoy’s cross from the right wing.

Defensive Woes Continue On The Road For Red Bulls

Holgersson endured a torrid evening at RFK Stadium on April 22 when Pontius grabbed a hat-trick and D.C. romped to a 4-1 win. He was having another unconvincing game here. Pajoy easily outmuscled the lanky Swede two minutes after the interval before feeding Pontius on the left of the box, but the Californian’s shot was blocked.

Backe’s ultra-cautious line-up left New York short of goalscoring options when they ventured forward. Tainio was the only player inside the penalty box on 50 minutes when Jan Gunnar Solli worked an opening to cross from the right. The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder isn’t renowned for his offensive qualities. He unsurprisingly sclaffed his effort.

Lindpere provided the only outlet for Solli two minutes later, though Cahill did manage to connect with Henry’s cross on 55 minutes when he was the sole Red Bulls player threatening the goal. The Australian beat Dejan Jakovic to the ball to send a deft flick squirming just beyond Hamid’s far post.

New York survived a scare on 61 minutes when Pontius again out-jumped Lade to head McDonald’s long diagonal pass to De Rosario inside the penalty box. Holgersson was caught on the wrong side of his man and appeared to bundle the Canadian international to the ground. Referee Ricardo Salazar ignored D.C.’s appeals.

Holgersson wasn’t so lucky seven minutes later as De Rosario took advantage of another blunder to net his one-hundredth MLS goal. DeLeon pinged a hopeful long ball down the center of the field that caught the former Helsingborgs defender floundering and an unsure Gaudette racing from his goal. De Rosario leapt bravely to head the ball into an empty net from 18 yards before Gaudette could make contact.

De Rosario bravely leaps to head past Gaudette while Holgersson (No.5) flinches

Backe Finally Moved To Use His Attacking Options

Backe turned to the embarrassment of attacking riches he has at his disposal as a fourth road defeat in five games loomed. Le Toux replaced midfield anchor Tainio with 15 minutes remaining as the Swede converted to his default 4-4-2 formation. Solli made way on 83 minutes so that the hulking frame of Cooper could be thrown into the box, and English debutante Lloyd Sam came on for Lindpere.

It was time to get it in the mixer – crude stuff from a team whose $16 million roster costs four times greater than most of their opponents. It worked. United’s defense struggled to clear Dax McCarty’s cross on 88 minutes as the bodies piled up around the six-yard line. The ball broke out to Conde 25 yards from goal and the Colombian defender hammered a right-foot drive high into Hamid’s top-left corner.

Scraping out results when performances are sub-standard is seen to be the mark of champions. It’s tough to decipher if that’s the case with this year’s New York Red Bulls, or whether this is a team simply riding a long trail of good fortune.


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Aug. 28, 2012 — Red Bulls Frustrate Sporting In Tie, Almost Grab Win

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 16, 2012 — Backe Backtracks To Revive Red Bulls

June 26, 2012 — Red Bulls Hold Off Rivals D.C. United In East Coast Classic