For the second time in the past month, the New York Red Bulls had a chance to make a statement and to also gain ground in the Major League Soccer standings while hosting a match at home. For the second time in the past month, the Red Bulls fell flat on their faces. A roster that was advertised by some to be the "deepest and most talented" in the history of the league is now in real danger of missing the postseason.
It'd be a completely unbelievable story if it was any other team.
The Red Bulls lost 2-0 to Chicago Fire on Saturday. A match recap and stat sheet can be found here.
NY Red Bulls 0-2 Chicago: Aggravating
Forget the two moments when Sherjill MacDonald beat the New York back line, once in controversial fashion (replays seemed to show that MacDonald may have been half of a step offside before burying his second goal of the match), if only because those several seconds of play really don't stick out at me as I'm reviewing this contest. The Red Bulls squad that took the pitch on Saturday afternoon was a perfect summary of this team's 2012 campaign, one filled with great ups and gut-punch lows that have left some fans wondering why they even bother.
The Red Bulls teased fans first by not surrendering an early goal, and then by slowly but surely turning into the better overall side of the first half. They held possession for 59 percent of the time, and it seemed as if the match-opener was but minutes away. That goal never came, however, for a variety of reasons.
It would be unfair to not give the Fire at least a little credit for how well they defended during the game's first 45 minutes. With that said, it also can't be ignored that the Chicago back line was hardly up against a fluid attack. Thierry Henry waited just seven minutes to drop back into the midfield rather than remaining up top where he dominated against Toronto, Kenny Cooper again doubted himself while in the attacking third, once even freezing in the penalty area as an unmanned ball was waiting to be struck, and Tim Cahill was at times acting as a CDM.
Memory may lead you to believe that things improved in the second half. The stats tell a different story. New York fired off six shots on goal after the break. One of those tested goalkeeper Sean Johnson. A Chicago defense that has given up 39 league goals in 2012 was made to look like Chelsea playing against Barcelona in last spring's Champions League fixture, and it wasn't just because of how solid the Fire were in front of their own goal.
NY Red Bulls 0-2 Chicago: Bright spot
Dax McCarty is the only Red Bulls player who can hold his head high following this disaster. Fate and perhaps a NJ breeze that blew in at the wrong time robbed him of a goal in the first half, when he struck a gorgeous looping ball that darted away from the outstretched Johnson but bounced less than a foot outside of the right post. McCarty was responsible for multiple run-stopping tackles outside of the New York penalty area, and he also acted as the last line of defense in the box on more than one occasion. Outside of McCarty, I can't think of a single RBNY player who had a good game on Saturday.
NY Red Bulls 0-2 Chicago: Exposed
Backup goalkeeper Luis Robles is not the guy to start for a Red Bulls team pursuing a title this fall. One could easily argue that Robles could and even should have made a save in both scenarios that saw MacDonald score. Robles also looked far too shaky when forced to deal with back passes and a crowd of players inside his penalty area.
Connor Lade has meant a great deal to the 2012 Red Bulls, but his time as a back in this team needs to be over until at least 2013. Patrick Nyarko absolutely owned the RBNY rookie down the wing in the second half, and Lade found himself poorly positioned on the play that resulted in MacDonald notching his second tally of the match. Lade has a future in this league, no question about it. For now, that future should be as a second half spark plug that inserts life into the New York midfield.
Chicago weren't even a little bit fooled when Rafa Marquez entered the game 15 minutes before time. The Fire immediately settled in and prepared for Marquez's over the top passes, thus turning the Mexican international into a non-factor as New York desperately searched for a goal in the waning moments of play. Saturday's game offered another reminder that, outside of Sebastien Le Toux (who didn't get a single shot off in his 19 minutes on the pitch), New York really don't have any attacking options to bring on late in a game.
NY Red Bulls 0-2 Chicago: Conclusion
Forget winning the MLS East. New York must now concentrate on making the playoffs. Houston and Columbus could both gain ground on the Red Bulls between the posting of this piece and Sunday night, and there isn't a person on earth who could convince me that the New York side that flopped against Chicago this afternoon is capable of beating KC at home or the Union in Philadelphia.
I'm not at all interested in speaking or typing about the front office changes that hit the Red Bulls earlier this week. Players don't complete transactions, nor do they select managers. Players play, and New York must play better in their last two regular season games. Otherwise, the Red Bulls won't again participate in a meaningful game until next spring.