Mike Petke happy with New York Red Bulls' defensive response in draw with Colorado Rapids

HARRISON, N.J. – Questionable penalty kick aside, the New York Red Bulls’ retooled defense bounced back on Saturday after a dreadful season opener.

The Red Bulls (0-1-1) may have settled for a 1-1 draw with Colorado (0-0-1) in their home opener at Red Bull Arena on Saturday after the Rapids were awarded a controversial spot kick in the second half, but an overlying theme out of New York’s locker room was that their back line showed much improvement after surrendering four goals against the Whitecaps in Week 1.

Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke tried to address and correct the defensive issues in training last week, and he was pleased with the outcome despite the match’s result.

“The one thing I’m happy about the defense today is that they were in sync together, whereas in Vancouver they weren’t,” Petke said. “We worked a lot this week on holding the line, on stepping up together, dropping together, working off each other and for the most part it was good and I’m happy with them. It was a good response for them.”

A major reason why the Red Bulls’ defense – which included newcomers Richard Eckersley and Armando and a returning Roy Miller – looked much improved was down to the return of Jamison Olave. Petke chose to sit Olave out of the season opener due to the turf surface at BC Place, and the Colombian center back’s combination of speed, strength, positioning and leadership was a welcome sight against Colorado.

“It was nice having Olave back,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles. “He’s a huge defensive presence for us and he did a good job organizing, and it’s really tough to beat him one-on-one. That’s something that we were able to take advantage of today, especially because they have really fast guys.

“Having him back there to plug up the middle was huge for us today.”

Strides may have been taken by the defense, but that is not to say New York’s back four were flawless. A week after yielding 10 shots on goal in 14 attempts, the Red Bulls conceded six of 18.

Clearly, room for improvement remains from a back line whose players are still familiarizing themselves with one another.

“Defensive line was solid and one of the biggest things that we can take from this game, since we are a work in progress, there were more positives than negatives,” said Robles. “If we continue in that direction, I think our trajectory is pretty good.”

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