The World Cup is into the knockout round? Big deal: MLS IS BACK! (No, we're not sure why they couldn't wait either.) It was the usual story in Harrison on Friday night, as the New York Red Bulls needed late dramatics to salvage a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC. Back from his World Cup duty with Australia, Tim Cahill came off the bench to provide a late assist for Bradley Wright-Phillips' tying goal.
One major lineup change for this match, as Mike Petke opted to field a defensive line full of rookies. Chris Duvall made his fourth appearance wide right, Ambroise Oyongo made his first MLS start wide left, and academy product Matt Mizaga earned his second career start paired with Jamison Olave. The youngsters absorbed with a lot of early pressure from Toronto's attack, looking more confident than many of the "veteran" defenders that NY has fielded throughout the season.
The opening goal would be created by one of those youngsters, as some solid team passing allowed Oyongo to press forward into the attack. A nice cutback and a clean cross found the head of Peguy Luyindula, who put it just past the arms of TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik.
The second half would bring the stereotypical Metro collapse. Jermain Defoe would redirect a cross in full stride to level the match in the 55th minute. After Toronto was awarded a free kick right outside the box in the 72nd minute, it was underachieving TFC striker Gilberto who practically shoved Defoe off the ball, demanding that he take the free kick. After an intra-team squabble, Gilberto took the kick, and, well:
Having let another lead slip at home and facing a loss, Petke brought in Tim Cahill, who had just returned to camp on Wednesday. Cahill was largely quiet until late in stoppage time, where he redirected a long pass from Miazga right into the path of Bradley Wright-Phillips. BWP blasted home his league-leading 12th goal of the season to level the score late and earn the home side a late point.
Their penchant for late dramatic finishes aside, there's something clearly lacking in this year's Red Bulls side. As one long-time supporter put it: "Supporting Metro is like Apollo 13. You're so happy everyone made it out alive, you forget to be pissed that they didn't land on the moon."
Red Bull Arena is hardly the fortress it was last year: they went 11-2-4 in 2013, but are just 2-2-3 so far in 2014. Mental mistakes are killing this team every week, and while they have plenty of time to raise their position in the standings, they will be halfway done with the season after next week's match at Houston. If the team can't find a way to hold a lead at home, they could easily miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Coach Mike Petke on putting youth in the back: "The thought process is that since I took this job a year and a half ago I preached about giving young kids, giving academy kids opportunities. Last year I didn’t. I felt I wasn’t able to at times. Things worked out for the better during the season. This year, I think giving Chris that opportunity and seeing how he took it gave me the courage to give Matt the opportunity and he took it well, and gave me the courage to give Ambroise Oyongo the opportunity. This is a league that we play plenty of teams that are young and enthusiastic and have energy. If you don’t match that, I’ve been preaching this for a year and a half, if you don’t match that you’re behind the eight ball from the start of the game. I’m going to do what I feel I need to do to get that energy. I feel that in certain instances, a lot of players, we have the talent on this team but we need to have an effort every game."
Tim Cahill on if it's tough to resume MLS play right after being in the World Cup: "I suppose it's tough to an extent, but it's something I've done my whole career. I think the best thing, more than anything, was my decision to come to the MLS, to play internationally in my third World Cup, and the calculated decision being great domestically. The league, the club, the fans, the success we had last season now looking for more success, and on top of that, having two of the best moments in my footballing history with a goal against Chile, and one agains the Netherlands. I'm proud that the MLS and New York Red Bulls have played a part in that. I know people were questioning, I left the Premier League to play in another World Cup, to be in a great league, and you look at the way the American national team's going, the amount of MLS player's playing there, it's justified for these boys and they're really flaying the flag well, and hopefully they can do us proud again by going to the next level."
Luis Robles on Gilberto's free kick: "Oh my god. I don't know the last time I've seen a ball hit that hard. The tough part is I didn't see it until it was too late. I think he hit it right behind the gap between the outside of the wall and the inside of the wall, and it might have gone right by the head of the wall. I didn't see it until the last second. Obviously he got all of that ball."
Matt Mizaga on the young back line: "We all feel confident in our abilities. We've played a lot of matches for the reserves together. So, I just feel like it was the same thing just at a higher level."
Thierry Henry on the team's need to improve: "Today if you look at the goals, you can avoid them, especially the first one. We gave the ball away cheaply and we conceded a goal and the second one the same way. And usually you pay the price. But we have to work as a team and try to do better. And I go back to that, we went on a good draw against Kansas City away, winning against New England but we didn’t capitalize on getting the points by winning today. The league is a weird one. Hopefully we can bounce back and have a good result against Houston. We all know that it’s not easy to win there."
Next Match: Friday, July 4th, 8:30 PM ET, at Houston (TV: NBC SN)