“We let an opportunity slip away from us. However, if you were to have asked us a week ago, 10 days ago, if we would like to take a point on the road in the opening game in an environment like this, against a good team like this – maybe you’d say yes,” New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petke said.
“Maybe you’d make a deal with the devil and say yes.”
In black and white terms, he is absolutely right. The Red Bulls walked into this match with little over five weeks of training under their belt while sporting a plethora of new faces in their reconstructed lineup. They expected to encounter issues with their backline. Their veterans were wary of the artificial turf at JELD-WEN. Their tactical formations continue to be a work in progress and, clearly, the team had issues with fitness.
All of that said, the draw felt empty for New York. Whether home or on the road, conceding a two goal lead and putting in a lifeless performance for the closing 45 minutes certainly does not instill confidence in the team’s short term aspirations.
Here is a final look at the Red Bulls 3-3 draw:
- 1. MIXED BAG FOR PETKE
While the new Red Bulls boss certainly got the best of his fellow debutante Caleb Porter throughout the first 45 minutes, it was the more experienced Timbers manager that won the tactical battle in the second.
New York looked spry in the attack, using their new found freedom to confound the Timbers backline. Sure, Mikael Silvestre deserves an assist for the Red Bulls, but credit is the constant offensive pressure for creating that atmosphere.
The second half, however, told a different story. While Petke’s men came out flat, looking to play it safe until the final whistle, Porter inspired the Timbers and adjusted their offense in a way Petke had no counter for. Diego Valeri was pushed further towards the attack. Darlington Nagbe pressed the right side of New York’s defense. The Timbers fullbacks also started to push up adding another dimension to the team’s offensive assault.
Petke had no response to the pressure. His team remained in a shell; perhaps due to their lingering fitness issues.
For as promising as the first half was, Petke lost the coaching battle in the second.
- 2. FABIAN ESPINDOLA ALREADY PROVING HIS WORTH
If you can imagine it, Espindola meant more to New York than his brace would indicate.
The biggest knock on Kenny Cooper last season was his inability to create chances. In Backe’s system, that wait-for-the-feed mentality worked wonders – 18 wonders as a matter of fact. With Petke, he is relying on his veterans to read and create on the offensive end and that is where Espindola shined.
The Argie striker fit the bill. A tireless worker both in practice and on gameday, Espindola drew defenders and made Thierry Henry an after thought on offense. Though that didn’t produce goals for the Frenchman this match, it will surely serve useful in future encounters.
“He brings so much to the table and the reason he came off is because he runs and works so hard that he was just dead,” Petke said. “That was a reward for him for all the work he has done. Great work. He brings a lot to the table and he showed what kind of player he is today.”
- 3. DIEGO VALERI IS THE REAL DEAL
If it wasn’t for Valeri’s calm on the ball and ability to create, Portland may never have come back in this one.
The Timbers new Designated Player put the league on notice with a dominating performance and a spectacular opening goal.
“He is a very good player,” Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty noted. “He is the type of guy MLS needs. He is crafty, very good. For me especially it’s tough because he finds those little gaps in between the centerbacks and central midfielders.
“He was certainly dangerous,” he continued. “I think for the most part, we tried to keep him on the outside of the box, on the periphery, he still was able to find his passes and gaps.”
- 4. TIME AND PATIENCE
If you are a Red Bulls fan, this will be your early season mantra.
Five weeks simply isn’t enough time for a rookie coach and a new pool of players to coalesce under a new system. As shown yesterday, it clearly isn’t enough time for a team to regain their fitness either.
Lingering preseason issues on the backline and a lack of cohesion tactically came to be expected heading into the match, but was quickly forgotten after an explosive first half. The Red Bulls are not in regular season form – and it shows. Will it take a couple of weeks? A pair of months? It is hard to say just how long the team needs to gel and find their fitness, but until they do, breakdowns like the one during the second half could be a re-occuring theme.
Until then, New York can hang their hat on an impressive half of soccer. Perhaps it will be a sign of things to come.