A fluke goal that came as a result of a defensive miscue. A toothless attack that struggled to hit the target or get into any rhythm. We've seen numerous frustrating results from teams playing at Red Bull Arena in the past couple of years. This time it was the hosts who were the better side, however, as New York earned their third consecutive shutout.
The goal: Absolutely has to be blamed on Corey Ashe. The Houston back line did well to shut Kenny Cooper down before the front man could have a go in the seventh minute, but Ashe then played one of the laziest and most lackadaisical back passes that we'll see all season long to goalkeeper Tally Hall. Cooper deserves credit for never giving up on the play, as he chased the ball down and thus forced Hall into panic mode. Hall slid in with his legs instead of his body, Cooper left his feet to cause a deflection, and the ball sailed into the unmanned goal for the only tally (pun intended) of the match.
Welcome back: Forward Juan Agudelo made his return from a knee injury on Wednesday evening, playing the entire second half in place of Mehdi Ballouchy. Agudelo showed some expected rust in his first few minutes on the pitch, but he eventually settled in and nearly found the back of the net on two separate occasions. Agudelo caused problems for Houston throughout the game's final 30 minutes, reminding fans what the team has been missing over the past month or so.
These kids really can play: When are we going to stop referring to the New York squad that's taken the pitch during the team's past three contests as their "makeshift lineup?" Brandon Barklage has earned his spot in the team's full-time starting lineup with his defensive performances in New York's three straight 1-0 victories. Connor Lade has looked like a true MLS back following the debacle at DC United, but I'm still not completely convinced that he should take over for Roy Miller just yet. Dax McCarty, while technically not one of the "kids," deserves to be a starter in head coach Hans Backe's team for the foreseeable future. McCarty was once again New York's best overall player on Wednesday night, anchoring the team's defense while at the same time beginning multiple counterattacks. McCarty was also just a few feet away from burying what would have been a "nail in the coffin" goal in the second half.
Don't forget about rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara. Meara was again heroic during the closing stages of the match, making several stops to preserve New York's one-goal advantage. His best moment came in the third minute of stoppage time, when Calen Carr headed a ball that seemed destined to land in the upper portion of the net. Meara made a fantastic reaction save, tipping the attempt upward before eventually catching and holding onto the ball. It was just another highlight reel moment from the rookie who continues to be one of the most reliable 'keepers in all of Major League Soccer.
Overall: Don't look now, RBNY critics, but the Red Bulls are again creeping near the top of the overall MLS standings. New York, currently on 19 points, are now in second place in the eastern conference. They trail Sporting KC by two points (KC have a game in hand), and the Red Bulls have a one-point advantage over DC United with a game in hand on their rivals. Only Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders and Sporting KC have more points than do New York heading into the weekend.
And all of this without both Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez in the RBNY lineup.
There is going to be plenty of talk about both the future of Marquez and the Red Bulls potentially picking up a veteran sometime this summer (looking at you, Alessandro Nesta) over the next couple of days. For now, though, New York fans should just sit back for at least a few hours and enjoy three straight 1-0 results. It wasn't that long ago, after all, that the 2012 Red Bulls appeared destined for disaster.
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