The New York Red Bulls have opened the Major League Soccer season with 180 minutes of defensive blunders and offensive bluntness. Captain Thierry Henry and costly midfielder Tim Cahill have barely sparked an attacking move of note, while Jamison Olave and Heath Pearce have lumbered and stumbled through their attempts to shut out the opposition.
A familiar scapegoat emerged in the closing minutes of Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at San Jose Earthquakes to shield New York from its continuous stream of mediocrity. Roy Miller’s uncanny, almost masochistic tendency to thrust himself toward infamy has once again cast him as persona non grata among many of the team’s fans. There is a far bigger picture, as first-year head coach Mike Petke alluded to during his media conference call Tuesday.
Miller’s first two seasons under the Red Bulls’ former head coach Hans Backe were largely uneventful. The Costa Rican national team player arrived from Norwegian side Rosenborg in January 2010 and quickly formed an effective partnership down the left side with Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere. Miller was dependable if unspectacular, competent at joining the attack and on a par with any other left-back in the league.
That perception has altered. Miller began last year with a sloppy giveaway at Dallas that allowed Ricardo Villar to give the hosts an unassailable lead. His season ended in the two-legged playoff series against D.C. United with an own goal at RFK Stadium and an infamously botched free kick at Red Bull Arena that his more skilled and authoritative teammates ducked out of taking.
Miller had been inconspicuous at Buck Shaw Stadium Sunday until San Jose benefited from his two unfortunate gaffes – conceding a penalty for handball and prompting a retake after Luis Robles saved Chris Wondolowski’s first effort. The bigger picture is that New York’s entire process of play this season has been undeserving of the single point yielded in Portland.
“It’s not about one player and placing the blame on his shoulders,” Petke said. New York’s all-time leader in appearances highlighted “things that go unnoticed because nothing transpires from them,” such as his side’s inability to build possession and his players’ apparent reticence toward receiving the ball. “We win together and we lose together,” he added.
Pearce had a particularly lumpish first half against the Earthquakes. His failed attempt to chest the ball to Miller on three minutes freed Mike Fucito down San Jose’s right flank. The former Portland Timbers forward’s cross just evaded Ramiro Corrales. Fucito left a statuesque Pearce for dust five minutes later when he peeled to the near post to flick Shea Salinas’ cross wide from six yards. Either error could have resulted in a goal. The fact that neither did, as Petke alluded to, meant that they largely did not register.
Brandon Barklage’s positioning five yards behind his fellow defenders almost gifted San Jose a clear opening on eight minutes when Fucito raced onto a long ball by Victor Bernardez. The former D.C. United full-back’s poor decision-making resurfaced after the interval when he unwisely hurled a throw-in to Robles, almost allowing Fucito to pounce as the goalkeeper struggled to control the ball on his 6-yard line.
Miller was not so fortunate with his lapses.
The Costa Rican’s reputation now ensures that Miller takes heat even when his teammates are equally if not more culpable. Markus Holgersson’s gawkish attempt to clear and Connor Lade’s poor positioning directly resulted in Nick DeLeon’s late goal that eliminated the Red Bulls last year. Yet the abiding image of failure rests with Miller’s ballooned shot.
Sunday brought a similar fate. Adam Jahn’s equalizer for San Jose came from Sam Cronin’s dangerous ball across New York’s 6-yard line that should never have been allowed. Cronin’s run down the inside-left channel originated from outside the box when he was within yards of Cahill and clearly in the Australian international’s line of sight. The former Everton midfielder simply failed to track his man effectively – a far easier task than New York’s back line subsequently faced as it dropped toward its own net.
Petke unnecessarily hauled Miller from the field after Wondolowski’s winning kick Sunday. Seconds remained in which to change the pattern of play. He has since defended his player with his remarks. The novice head coach’s biggest issue, as was the case for the past two years under Backe, is that his team has no characteristic style of play. It shows little flair or ingenuity in its attempts to break down the opposition. Defenders frequently make basic errors that should be rare at the professional level, and heavily remunerated individuals undermine the team ethic by not pulling their weight.
Signs of predictable disappointment ahead for New York’s long-suffering fans are already looming.
March 4, 2013 — Bluster Surrounds Opening Weekend In MLS
Jan. 22, 2013 — And The New Red Bulls Head Coach Is… Lester Piggott?
Nov. 6, 2012 — Backe’s Red Bulls Must Break New Ground Against D.C.