When MLS schedules were released this year, many pointed to mid-July and wondered why the New York Red Bulls would be hosting three afternoon home games in the middle of July. The Seattle Sounders were up first on Sunday afternoon, in the only meeting of both teams this season. Ninety minutes of extreme heat and humidity resulted in a 2-2 draw, with newly acquired striker Sebastian Le Toux scoring in his NY debut.
News of Le Toux's trade broke after practice on Friday, with RBNY acquiring the French striker from Vancouver in exchange for Dane Richards and allocation money. Le Toux was the face of the Philadelphia Union for 2010 and 2011 - and oh, did the Union fans howl over this trade. Dane Richards had spent six years in New York, and his speed was always considered a threat as part of New York's attack - even during his poor seasons, as 2012 had been. GM Erik Soler confirmed before the game that the team had been seeking Le Toux for a while, that the trade was a surprise to Dane, and that the acquisition does end the Luke Rodgers saga - for now, at least.
Le Toux's addition saw the Red Bulls trot out a 4-3-3 lineup, with Le Toux and his twin Kenny Cooper playing high in front of Thierry Henry. Rafa Marquez and Markus Holgersson both returned from injuries to form the center of the defense. And for the first time all season, rookie Ryan Meara didn't start in goal. A lingering soft hip injury meant the Red Bulls opted to put in backup GK Bill Gaudette, also acquired this week from Los Angeles.
The new lineup was not without its flaws, and from kickoff, Seattle were in the driver's seat as New York tried to figure out how to play in something other than a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1. Within 16 minutes, Seattle had opened the scoring, as a beautiful long ball from Adam Johansson found Alvaro Fernandez for an easy goal.
While we try to not read into things, there was a very sudden substitution in the 20th minute, as Wilman Conde came on for Rafa Marquez, who had reportedly re-injured his calf. (At this point, Marquez has played around 35% of the available minutes for his team, with injury and suspension constantly keeping him off the field.) Following Conde's entrance, the team suddenly looked like they had some idea how to make the formation work, and started to string together attacks. It only took 4 minutes for NY to find an equalizer, as Sebastian Le Toux pounced onto a rebound from a Kenny Cooper shot to open his account for New York. We don't want to imply that New York suddenly got better when Marquez left the field, but the turnaround was staggering.
While the second half would see each side notch another goal - Joel Lindpere bringing NY into the lead before Fredy Montero came off Seattle's bench to level again - the real story of the second half was the weather. The oppressive heat affected both sides, with tired attackers, sluggish defenders, and a complete lack of sustained pressure. New York nearly pulled out a goal in stoppage on a corner kick, but it was not to be.
The extreme weather was cause for much grumbling in the locker room after the game, because not only do they have to do it all again on Wednesday against Chicago (and then again Saturday against Philly), but because most everyone played a full 90 minutes. With the injuries still plaguing this team, squad rotation is becoming more of a luxury than a necessity, and expecting these players to go 180 - or even 270 - minutes in NYC summer afternoons may only make things worse.
The Red Bulls (9-5-5) march onward to host Chicago (9-6-4), who are just a single point behind them in the Eastern Conference standings. When these teams last met a month ago, Chicago easily dispatched RBNY 3-1. With a 6-point swing on the line, and with the Red Bulls only getting one win in their last seven matches, it will easily be the highest pressure game of the week. Let's just hope they don't melt in the sun again.
Coach Hans Backe, on the match: "Quite rough start for us, defending wise. They could play in between our midfield a little too easy, create some chances and of course went 1-0 up. But after some adjustments, I think we just improved all the time. In the second half, I mean we should have won it. Three, four huge chances to finish this game off, but at the same time - it's brutal out there, so I think okay, say after the first twenty minutes, the way we improved, I can live with that."
Dax McCarty, on the heat: "I played in Dallas my first five years, and I can honestly say that this game right here was up there with the worst I've ever played in Dallas. I would take ten games in the North Pole right now over playing in that again. It's very difficult for guys, for some of the best athletes, some of the fittest athletes in the world, to go a full 90 minutes without losing their legs. And even when your legs go, it's even harder to keep your mental focus, because you're losing a lot of fluid, your mind is going 20 different directions. It makes for a very disjointed game."
Sebastian Le Toux, on his debut: "I'm very happy to score my first goal in my new uniform. Just disappointed we didn't win tonight, but we hope to continue and Wednesday get the win against Chicago. It was a bit hard at the beginning of the game, to fit in with the temperature and in the area, like new stadium, it was a bit different. I'm very happy to play back on grass, it's great. [Henry and Cooper] are great players, so I'm just going to look forward to progress with them, and try to win the most games we can."
Thierry Henry, on the Richards/Le Toux trade: "[Sebastian] has been great tonight. You can already see what he can bring. Having saying that, I just want to say thank you to Dane Richards. People always forget the guy that leaves. Dane was amazing for us. Unfortunately, in this league, you got to let people go to get people. It is weird. I'm not going to comment on it at the end of the day. The guy was a great professional, a great asset for us, and a great guy in the dressing room. So I wanted to wish him good luck, and tell him thank you for what he did. I know I'm nobody here - I'm not the owner of the club, I'm just saying Dane was a great guy, and we will miss him."
Next Match: Wednesday July 21, 1PM, vs. Chicago Fire (TV: MSG+)