With a three week break from league play looming, the New York Red Bulls were to close out the first half of their season with a relatively easy opponent: the Vancouver Whitecaps, who hadn't yet won on the road in 2013. But things never quite go as they seem with this team. What started as a strong performance descended to sloppy play, missed chances, and a 2-1 loss that handed New York their first defeat in eight games, dating back to April 17th. New York's only tally on the night was an own goal.
The first half. It's easy to be down on the game overall, but New York played well in the opening 45 minutes. The Red Bulls mixed up their attack, mixing long balls to Henry with more wing play and short passing up the middle. The defense kept Vancouver from getting a single shot on target. All in all, one of the "prettier" halves of soccer played by this team all year - albeit without a goal to show for it.
Jamison Olave's red card. When Jamison Olave earned a yellow card in the 49th minute, I remarked in surprise that it was his first caution of the entire 2013 season. Perhaps he wanted to make up for lost time, though, because less than a half hour later he'd earn his second yellow of 2013 and be sent off. What little cohesion the defense was managing fell apart at that point, and Vancouver would find their second goal shortly thereafter. The red card also means Olave will face an automatic one game suspension, to be served when New York travels down to Philly.
Unfinished big chances. It's not that New York couldn't have won - it's that they didn't. Fabian Espindola failed to convert at least two big chances on build-up passes, Thierry Henry put two chips right at Brad Knighton, and Peguy Luyindula had the perfect opportunity to level the game in stoppage - but he went too fancy and Knighton had no problem stopping his shot.
Slipping out of first place. Elsewhere in the league, Montreal beat Sporting Kansas City to take possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. With four games in hand over New York (thanks, MLS schedulers!), New York will need to pray for Montreal to stall out if they ever hope to touch the top of the East again this year.
Vancouver's second goal. Vancouver's first goal, with Eric Alexander failing to clear the ball well and giving Jordan Harvey a chance to rip a volley into the goal, was bad. But the second one - the simplest of crosses to Kenny Miller, who had slipped in behind a ball watching Kosuke Kimura - was inexcusable.
The locker room after the game. To say Mike Petke was pissed off after the match may be charitable. His downright combative answers to media questions caused the press conference to end after just two minutes. But Petke shortly returned, pulling media back from the locker room in what could be only be described as a classic Petke moment, apologizing for his discomfort with answering questions after a home loss by asking those in the room to "fucking just deal with me, okay?". Apology accepted, Mike.
But the locker room itself was a ghost town - only Thierry Henry, Juninho, and Luis Robles were available for interviews, with most other players leaving as quick as they could. Even Henry felt the need to put a footnote on his comments, ending his interview with this gem: "I’m talking about the team. Don’t go and say I said teammate and stuff like that. I’m talking about the team, me included. Before I read the bull."
Perhaps last Wednesday's Open Cup win will be a good thing, as the Red Bulls now get their three week vacation broken up with a road trip to Boston to take on New England. But the Red Bulls won't get a chance to rebound in league play until June 23rd, when they head down I-95 to take on an enigmatic Philadelphia Union side. The Union may feature the league's leading goal scorer, Jack McInerney, but they have been plagued by injury and inconsistency, keeping them in mid-table. New York won't return home until June 30th, when they host the Houston Dynamo.
Mike Petke on the second goal: "I got a great look at it. As a former defender myself I know you never stare at the ball. When the ball leaves the guy who crossed the ball’s foot, when it leaves his foot, the ball’s going nowhere but when it left his foot you know exactly where it’s going so if you stare at the ball it’s easy for someone to step in front of you. The right play is to know where the player is behind you, and to use your body, put your body in front of the player and the ball so there’s no way for him to get it but (to) foul you."
Mike Petke on whether Juninho's is living up to expectations: "I'm not going to get dragged into this, the same way the whole thing with Tim Cahill. Now everyone's kissing Tim Cahill's ass because he scored a couple goals. Meanwhile, everyone on this team and myself know exactly what his value is. So if we're going to judge someone like Juninho on scoring his phenomenal free kicks that he scored in history, well then - it's up to you guys to write what you want. Juninho with the ball at his feet? I love it."
Juninho on the match: "I’m shocked, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe we lost that game, we completely dominated the first half; we managed to go up 1-0 early in the second half and in a matter of 3-4 minutes we lost the game. It’s frustrating to lose games this way."
Thierry Henry on the mentality going into the break: "We are going to have to see how we can play and how we can work, and erase the mistakes we have done at the start of this season and make sure that we can come back stronger. I don’t know who’s going to play in the Open Cup or whatever, it’s going to give us some amount of time to work and play better."
Next Match: Sunday, June 23rd 5 PM, at Philadelphia (TV: ESPN)