A collective groan could practically be heard emanating throug Red Bull Arena when Jairo Arrieta found Milovan Mirosovic in the box for yet another early deficit.
The New York Red Bulls have had a strong season, but this is perhaps their greatest achilles heel. SB Nation blog “Once a Metro” took a year long tally of the statistics and the results were staggering; the Red Bulls have conceded a goal 11 times within the opening 20 minutes this season. That is a bit more than once every three games.
Clearly, such play is unsustainable, and perplexing to say the least.
“I just wonder, I hope someone could tell me how to do it, how to solve it – it’s not only one time,” Coach Hans Backe said after practice this week. “We looked into it a couple weeks ago and it’s been a number of times and also against the top teams. If we look in the four teams that are close to us, I think we’ve went down against every one of those teams in the first 10 minutes and some of these teams the first five minutes.
“It’s a long way in this league when you go down 1-0.”
Thierry Henry was in complete agreement with the Red Bulls boss. “It’s not only about disappointing me,” he told reporters. “You don’t want to go into a game every time and conceding – not every time but you know what I mean. I think we conceded four goals in the first eight minutes of the game this season. You can’t concede four goals early in the game like that.
“You can’t start against Kansas City like that,” he stressed. “They don’t concede a lot and I don’t know if there are teams that have scored two or three against them.”
“Everyone is aware of it, everyone is sharp and ready for the game,” Backe said before adding, “We look a little bit passive. I can’t say that anyone is nervous or anything to start a game, but we look a little bit passive in the defending game, the pressing game, the 50-50s, that you probably need to invest a little bit more the first 15-20 minutes.”
The team will surely have to be aware when they face the very best road team in Major League Soccer for Wednesday night’s first place fight.
“It’s always been physical games against Kansas, tough games and honest games at the same time,” Coach Backe said. “It is a big one. There are four out of six at homes and if you can beat the ones in front of us, you have a good chance to win the Eastern.
The last time New York played Kansas City, they were held without a shot for over 90 minutes. Of course, that was without talisman Thierry Henry manning the top line. The infusion of the team captain along with home field advantage give New York a solid step forward against their first place rivals – but will it be enough?
“They have a couple of players that can make a difference,” Backe pointed out. “I think set plays are one thing we need to be very, very sharp. They also have a good balance because with (Roger) Espinoza, and (Graham) Zusi who are creative enough for the front three guys. I think it’s a lot about how we defend, how we close down the midfield so they cannot go for the final passes.”
“It’s going to be a tough game playing for the top spot,” Henry warned. In the captain’s eyes, it will be the first of many challenges. “People forget that Chicago is in between. It may not be all Kansas City and all Red Bulls top of the weekend. You have to remember that. We have Houston around the corner and it is going to be a big fight to see who is going to finish first. It is true, if we manage to beat them, we can put a statement out there, but we still have to play Chicago at home and again Kansas City. It will be more a type of being in the head thing of them in our head if we don’t win or if we win, or vice versa.
“It’s just a game that we need to win like we had to win against Columbus, like when Toronto comes around, we have to beat Toronto and it won’t be easy. I guess everybody is excited because we are playing Kansas City, third against first or whatever, but you have to remember Chicago is in between and it might be Chicago at the top at the end of the week. Who knows?”
“We definitely want to finish top but it’s not easy in this league with so many teams chasing,” Tim Cahill said. “Its all up to what we do Wednesday and how we continue that.
“I am just confident this team can back up the games. I am excited for (Wednesdays) game.”