The Red Bulls were held in dramatic, frustrating fashion to a 1-1 draw last night at home against the Columbus Crew. While it appeared the Red Bulls would put a stop to their recent winless streak, a stoppage time equalizer from rookie Rich Balchan snatched a point at the death for Columbus and extended the Red Bulls winless streak to six games. The Red Bulls had some changes to the squad, as five of their regulars are away with their respective national teams for the Gold Cup.
Sutton started in goal with a center back pairing of Carlos Mendes and Stephen Keel. Roy Miller started as usual at left back and Solli played on the right, but could only amass about thirty minutes in the game before being subbed out after picking up a hamstring injury. Its probably the last thing the Red Bulls needed at this point, as now more than half of the usual starting team is out of action. Tainio and Lindpere formed the central midfield pairing like they did last weekend at Vancouver, with Austin Da Luz getting his first start at left midfield and Ballouchy playing on the right. Henry and Rodgers rounded out the starting eleven up top.
The Red Bulls started the match well, coming out with urgency and trying to take the game to Columbus. It was nice to see that even with the substantial changes to the lineup, the team came out from the start to try to get the three points at home. The fast start payed off for the Red Bulls as Ballouchy scored the game’s opener in the 9th minute after a cheeky finish. Luke Rodgers, as he was for most of the night, was key in creating the goal. Rodgers collected the ball at around the corner of the 18 yard box after a long ball from Solli and made a clever pass, splitting two Columbus defenders, to an on-running Ballouchy, who collected the ball at about the corner of the six and cooly lifted the ball over the on-rushing Columbus keeper into the corner of the net. The Crew had a decent response to the goal and established some more possession and control in the game. Despite this possession though, the Crew could not carve out many good chances. As with many teams in the MLS, they seemed to miss a link between the midfield and their forwards and had trouble converting the possession around midfield to effective possession and chances in the final third of the field. Eddie Gaven was able to provide this connection a few times and nearly caught Sutton for the equalizer in the 24th minute. After drifting inside, he found space behind Tainio and in front of the center backs, collected the ball and tried a lofted shot to catch Sutton off his line from about 25 yards out, but sent the ball over the crossbar. It was a decent effort by Gaven, but it was more important in that it was one of the few times Columbus was able to effectively utilize the space in the attacking third to combine and play through the Red Bulls defense.
The second half started similar to the end of the first half, with neither team being able to create really dangerous chances. The Red Bulls probably were a little stronger as the half wore on, although like the Crew they were noticeably missing De Rosario as they could not link up as well as they have shown at earlier points in the season. In the absence of many of the regular starters, I was impressed with Luke Rodgers. As always, he brought a lot of energy to the game and was probably the most dangerous player for the Red Bulls. He seemed to be at the center of many of the Red Bulls best attacks. I have been impressed with his form of late and he seems to have grown as the season has progressed into an important member of the squad, rather than just a role player.
As the second half continued, the Crew were finally able to carve out some decent chances that should have tested Sutton. Mendoza was on the receiving end of two very good opportunties for the Crew, but inexplicably failed to even make Sutton make a save. The first came in the 63rd minute, where Mendoza mishit a shot that didn’t even find its way on frame from about twelve yards out after Eddie Gaven cut the ball back to him on the byline. The next came in the 75th minute off a very good ball in from the left wing. Mendoza found himself unmarked about eight yards from the goal, but only he knows how he managed to place his header nearly five feet from the goal. The Crew really didn’t offer much of a threat throughout the match, despite their strong possession at times. However, these two chances the Crew were able to generate probably should have been converted into goals.
In the dying minutes of the match though, the Crew found an equalizer that is hard to say they deserved after some poor defending by the Red Bulls. The Crew picked up the ball about 40 yards from the goal and played it out wide to rookie Justin Meram on the left. After Meram drove by substitute right back Matt Kassell, all three of the Red Bulls defenders in the box were caught ball-watching as Meram cut the ball back from the byline to an open Balchan, who had an easy finish. Center back Stephen Keel was, for me, most at fault for the goal as he was running back with Balchan when the ball was originally played wide. As the replays shows though, Keel just ran in a straight line back to defend and only looked at the ball and disregarded Balchan, who had drifted away from him and found the space in the center of the box. By not tracking the runner and just watching the ball, Keel allowed Balchan to be open for an easy finish.
In the end, the Crew stole a point at the death from the Red Bulls in what was a frustrating result. It is hard to be overly negative, because there were positives to take away, but it is hard not to be frustrated after the manner in which the game finished. Considering it was the first game in which the Red Bulls had to play with half of their second team, it is not a terrible result. Furthermore, the performance by the team certainly was not great, but it wasn’t that bad either and after 90 minutes of the game, the team was on route to a good win. However, a mistake by a player who to be fair, despite his age (28), has virtually no experience playing in the MLS cost them. Without six starters and playing inexperienced, you have to expect that these types of things may happen. I think its true that if either Tim Ream or Rafa Marquez were playing at the back instead of Keel that mistake may not have happened and the Red Bulls would have left the game with three points. However that is not that case an it is a tough situation the Red Bulls find themselves in right now and to come away with a draw, even though it was at home, is not necessarily a bad thing. Another positive is that no team stays on good form throughout the course of the season; every team has slips and bumps in the road. Hopefully, this is just one of those times for the Red Bulls and once they get the whole first team back again, they can start to rediscover the form that led them to the top of the Eastern Conference earlier in the year. Despite not winning in six games, they have only lost one of those last six games, which is important to note. Hopefully the Red Bulls can continue to stay afloat with the team they have to field right now. Their next test is on Friday as they host local rivals the New England Revolution.
(image courtesy of Getty Images)