With attack struggling, NY defense wins the day

HARRISON, N.J. — After two straight wins in which the Red Bulls outscored their opponents 7-0, it was the New York defense’s turn to steal the headlines after gritting out a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night at Red Bull Arena.

With Sporting fielding their three-man midfield, the Red Bulls pressed high against Sporting’s backline, especially in the first half. The SKC midfield was unable to maintain much possession or relieve the pressure in the back, and the visitors had possession of the ball in New York’s penalty area just once in the first 45.

WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: New York 1, Sporting KC 0

“Top teams from across the world pressure all over the field, this is the modern game,” Dwayne De Rosaio told MLSSoccer.com after the match. “When we plays teams like this, like the one we played tonight, we have to have high pressure to kill the other team’s offense. I think we did that well tonight, and it created a few good chances for us.”

Turnovers helped New York to numerous chances in the first half, during which they pounded Sporting with eight shots on goal. In particular, Luke Rodgers, who struck the winner in the 22nd minute, and strike partner Thierry Henry harried the Sporting backline into repeated long balls.

“That’s something we do in training,” Rodgers said. “I think that is Thierry’s game as well. Not only is he a class player, he’s a hard worker as well.”

However, things changed somewhat after the break, which didn’t go unnoticed by Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe.

“I think we succeeded in the first half,” Backe said. “In the second half, we didn’t press them enough. We need to analyze [that] this week.”

Sporting clearly earned more possession in the second half, particularly dominating on the flanks. That helped them create, according to Backe, “two, maybe one-and-a-half good chances.”

The high pressure of the first half was not there after the break. Perhaps it was due to the two changes Backe made at halftime: Juan Agudelo for Rodgers, and Carl Robinson for Teemu Tainio in the midfield. Both Rodgers and Tainio had picked up yellow cards in the first half.

Lacking the pressure up top, the defensive responsibilities fell more heavily on the backline to earn their third straight shutout.

“It was a little bit complicated today but we’ve been maintaining our shape in the back,” centerback Rafa Márquez said.

Backe saw similar positives as his side returned to top spot in the Eastern Conference.

“The good sign is that when you are under pressure, you can defend the way we did throughout the whole second half and have a clean sheet,” Backe said. 

Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer