Poor start, soft defense dooms Red Bulls to defeat vs. Fire

Ballouchy and Pause

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If the New York Red Bulls benefited from the limited time off during the international break, it was not apparent in their first game back.

The Red Bulls suffered their first defeat since an April 22 loss to D.C. United on Sunday, falling to the Chicago Fire 3-1 at Toyota Park and generally looking out of sorts.  

Chicago came out firing and scored three minutes into the match when Sebastian Grazzini took advantage of the space Red Bulls defensive midfielder Heath Pearce gave him and picked out a pass that Patrick Nyarko headed home powerfully.

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“We didn't show up the first 20 minutes,” head coach Hans Backe told reporters after the game. “We looked, I can't say fatigued or exhausted, but no really power in our actions. It was too flat.”

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Pearce was at the center of the poor defensive display in the first half by the Red Bulls, failing to show good positional awareness in a role he is - it must be said - not particularly familiar with. He also failed to provide the same defensive bite that Dax McCarty, who scored to make it 1-1 early in the second half, has shown in recent games.

“That was just because we were missing some players because I think [Pearce's] best position is center back or left back,” Backe said in regard to the positional shift.

The Red Bulls head coach likely realized Pearce's struggles, as he removed left back Roy Miller at halftime in favor of Mehdi Ballouchy. That change allowed New York to pull level 10 minutes into the second half through McCarty's header, but they couldn't shed the defensive woes.

Chicago were denied a clear goal when Dominic Oduro's shot crossed the line just before Wilman Conde's clearance, but Gonzalo Segares scored off his own rebound minutes later. Chris Rolfe scored an insurance goal with his first tally in his second stint with the Fire.

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“When you don't give up goals, you win games, and when you give up three goals, it's almost impossible to win a game,” said goalkeeper Ryan Meara. “So we've go to go back to the basics a little and start doing the stuff that we did during that run when we were winning games.”

New York will need to do that quickly if they are to get back in the win column, as a Wednesday road game against the Vancouver Whitecaps without Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez looms.

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