Rare defensive lapses spell doom for Red Bulls

HARRISON, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls’ impressive four-game unbeaten run came to a sudden halt on Sunday evening, leaving head coach Hans Backe almost at a loss for words at how it all came to an end.

Young forward Justin Braun scored a hat trick to lead Chivas USA to a 3-2 win at Red Bull Arena, snapping the Red Bulls’ streak and leaving the hosts with what looked like a mess on the defensive end.

The final two Chivas USA goals came off set pieces, and for a Red Bulls team that had conceded just three goals combined through their eight games to start the season, it was disappointing stuff.

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“We weren’t good enough when we let in goals on set pieces like that,” right back Jan Gunnar Solli told MLSsoccer.com. “Too much ball-watching. Anything can go in when you’re in front of goal, that’s basically it.”

Backe said what he saw was “just a disaster” from the team defense on set pieces. And this lack of organization gave Chivas USA, which mustered five shots on goal in the game, a full three points at Red Bull Arena.

“We played too pretty,” Backe said. “We played too sloppy. We know exactly what to do on set pieces, but were too sloppy.”

The Red Bulls once again held the run of play in this one, including an edge in shots and an emphatic 14-2 advantage in corner kicks. But despite their strong play on offense, New York was decidedly out of sync defensively, and Braun made them pay.

The Chivas forward's goal in the 31st minute came off a deep Heath Pearce free kick which was kept in play by Ante Jazic. The ball fell unmolested in front of goal and Braun’s shot squirmed between goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul’s legs and into the back of the net.

Another free kick, this one from Simon Elliott in the 56th minute, found the head of a wide-open Alejandro Moreno, and the ball deflected off the post. As he was all night, Braun was in the right spot to tap in the rebound.

Typically, the Red Bulls employ a zonal marking system on free kicks, where the players mark turf and not their opponents. Five or six players camp out along a defensive line that is supposed to hold tight. The line is supposed to move as a unit and if the ball comes into a player’s assigned space, he is responsible to clear it.

“We made it too easy on them,” New York midfielder Teemu Tainio told MLSsoccer.com. “We can’t let Bouna all alone like that. It would be too easy to give just one reason — it was a lot of little things. We made it too hard for ourselves.”

The loss ended a run that saw the Red Bulls assert themselves as one of the best best and most aggressive defensive teams in the league. Braun’s three goals only provided a wakeup call, but it was also the first time a player has scored a hat trick against New York since former Chicago Fire midfielder Chris Rolfe did so on Oct. 21, 2008, at Toyota Park.

“What we did so well in the games before, that was really playing together well as a defense,” Tainio said. “That didn’t happen tonight, we didn’t all play defense. Too many mistakes.”

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