Red Bulls makeshift defense impressive in first shutout

Ryan Meara makes a save on Saer Sene

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HARRISON, N.J. – When the final whistle blew on Saturday, New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara threw his fists skyward, then loosened the Velcro on his gloves, jumped over the advertising boards behind his goal and handed out high fives before hugging a friend in the front row.

It was well-deserved, as the rookie posted his first clean sheet in a 1-0 win over New England at Red Bull Arena despite a makeshift backline.

“It definitely feels great,” Meara (above) told reporters after the game. “A long time coming, but we really battled and every single guy on the field, and even the guys that came in, really did a great job today, so a great full team performance. We deserved the win.”

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While Meara did need to make some fantastic saves to preserve the shutout, the relatively inexperienced Red Bulls defense that consisted of Markus Holgersson, Connor Lade, Brandon Barklage and Tyler Ruthven was able to limit the visitors’ chances.

The back four also benefited from the play of Dax McCarty, who was deployed as a defensive midfielder for New York. With Teemu Tainio injured and Rafa Márquez suspended, McCarty was asked to serve as the blanket in front of the defense and he excelled, continuously putting out fires.

“Before the game, that’s what the coaching staff entrusted me to do,” said McCarty, whose position on the board in the locker room was in front of the defense but behind the other three midfielders. “It’s a position I’ve played before, maybe not my best position, but today I wanted to stay more disciplined and sit in front of the back four and be an outlet for them and clean up things in the middle.

“It’s not fun. It’s not a position that you get a lot of recognition in, which makes guys like Teemu Tainio and Rafa Márquez so much more important, but I played a role today just like everybody else did, and it feels good to get three points.”

Other defensive players stood out, too. Lade delivered the assist on Thierry Henry’s game-winning goal and handled his defensive duties well, while the oft-criticized Holgersson shut down New England striker José Moreno to the point of the Colombian’s subbing off in the second half.

“My play style is to play together [defensively], and today we played together,” said Holgersson, who sported the captain’s armband after Henry was removed in the 25th minute with a hamstring injury.

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Part of the reason the Red Bulls had defensive success was because of their ability to stay compact, even in a second half that saw the Revolution throw numbers forward to apply a lot of pressure.

“Looking at film, the goals we’ve given up lately, a lot of them come when we’re stretched and slow to get back into shape,” said Meara. “When we’re in good shape defensively and tight and compact, we’re very hard to break down.”

The Red Bulls acknowledged after the game that their defensive performance will serve as a great morale boost as they head into next weekend’s marquee match vs. the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.

“Anything you can take to the next game to make it positive definitely instills a lot of confidence,” said Lade. “But we’re still hungry to improve on that and get more of a complete game.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.