Major League Soccer saved the best of Week 1 for last.
The type of sloppy play and defensive miscues that were at least a little predictable heading into the weekend were the big story of Sunday night's Portland Timbers vs. New York Red Bulls contest. Then came halftime, which gave new life to the hosts and seemingly eliminated all of the confidence and momentum held by RBNY at the break. Normally, you'd be happy with taking a draw and a point out of Portland.
These are the Red Bulls, though, and there's never been anything normal about them.
Portland 3-3 NY Red Bulls: Promise
Those of you worried about New York finding goals after they traded Kenny Cooper: I'd like you to meet Fabian Espindola. It can't be ignored that both of Espindola's first half tallies came because of awful mistakes made by Portland's Mikael Silvestre; one an awful back pass in the Timbers penalty area, and the other when Silvestre failed to compensate for the turf and thus unintentionally ole'd Espindola free down the wing. With that pointed out, Espindola's hustle, determination and the increase in pace that the Red Bulls have up front from one year ago all offer promise for the future.
Portland 3-3 NY Red Bulls: What happened?
You have to give the Timbers credit for responding in a big way after they went down by two goals. Portland were undeniably the better side in the final 15 minutes of the first half, and they were thoroughly dominant in the second en route to finding a late equalizer. Above any and all concerns one may have about New York's back line was the apparent lack of fitness exhibited by the Red Bulls after halftime. Tim Cahill was an absolute Nowhere Man, Thierry Henry looked to be in preseason shape, and neither Heath Pearce nor Jamison Olave (more on him later) had halves to remember.
There's obviously something to be said for the fact that New York have only played a little over an hour and a half of meaningful soccer in 2013. Still, the games matter now, and the Red Bulls just weren't ready for a 90+ minute fight on Sunday. As much as I'm a big fan of new head coach Mike Petke, it's the job of he and his staff to have his players at full fitness on day one.
Portland 3-3 NY Red Bulls: So about that back line...
Anybody worried about New York's back line at the start of the weekend probably isn't feeling any better about the matter at the start of the workweek. The always reliable Pearce was guilty of a clear penalty in the second half that somehow didn't get called, and Olave was an up-and-down roller coaster ride that has me still wondering if he was New York's MOTM or solely to blame for two of Portland's three goals.
Olave's RBNY career started when he was, as some put it, "posterized" by Portland's Diego Valeri in the New York penalty area when Valeri played a little flick that left the former RSL man stuck in his boots. Olave was then arguably the best overall player on the pitch up until halftime, and he even managed to complete the rarity of all rarities; a New York goal on a set piece. Olave's inconsistencies continued after the break, and his inability to foresee an incoming cross resulted in Portland leveling the match seven minutes from time.
New York's defending ends at goalkeeper Luis Robles, who was unfortunately not good enough on night one. Robles did preserve the draw late with a nice reaction save that he absolutely has to make ten times out of ten, but that one moment doesn't erase what were two glaring miscues. Portland twice made the New York 'keeper pay for not strongly punching the ball away from danger, and that's something Robles needs to work on immediately if he is going to remain as Petke's first choice once Ryan Meara is 100 percent.
Portland 3-3 NY Red Bulls: Overall
I'm often a fan of the "take the draw on the road and get the heck out of town" mentality. It's difficult to think that way right now if you're a RBNY supporter. The Red Bulls were outplayed by a team believed by many to not be a postseason contender in 2013, and they were about 4-6 inches away from losing 4-3. New York are still in the learning process of the Petke era, though, and there's definitely no reason to panic after the first weekend of March.
There are plenty of games left to go.
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