HANOVER, N.J. - The New York Red Bulls have conceded five penalty kicks a quarter of the way into the season.
The MLS record is 10.
The Red Bulls are heading into their Sunday duel at FC Dallas (3 pm ET; UniMas) on a three-game unbeaten streak, but also with full awareness that they need to dispose of the disturbing trend of conceding penalty kicks. New York were most recently victimized by that in last Saturday’s 1-1 road draw against Columbus, with Kosuke Kimura bringing down Justin Meram in the box to set up the Crew’s eventual goal.
Kimura is far from the only Red Bulls player to have had a lapse like that this season. The only two regular defenders not to, ironically enough, are the oft-criticized Armando and Roy Miller – and Petke knows that aspect of his club’s game needs correcting.
“For all my deficiencies as a defender, the one thing that I always made sure to do was [have] my head was on a swivel at all times because I wasn’t the fastest and I need to position myself,” said Petke, a former center back. “I don’t see a lot of that recently. It happened a couple of times in practice today, and guys are staring at the ball and people are running across them or behind them.
“To me, you know where the ball is. Where’s the player? … Maybe to me it’s easy, but it’s about reinforcing and putting those things in their heads.”
The Red Bulls have had multiple solid defensive outings go to waste because of penalty kicks this season, including in 1-1 draws with the Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA in March.
Needless to say, the inability to avoid ball-watching and get goal-side on crosses played to the back post have been frustrating for both the players and Petke.
“The one thing I’ve always stressed is you know where the ball is at all times; you don’t need to stare at it,” said the second-year head coach. “A lot of people nowadays, a lot of young kids nowadays have this inability to know their surroundings and just focus on where the ball is. To me, defensive-wise, that’s a killer. That’s an absolute killer.”
Penalty kicks aside, the Red Bulls defense has shown progressive improvement since the season-opening shellacking in Vancouver. New York have conceded just three times in their last four matches, and they know they’ll be even tougher to go up against if they can eliminate those pesky penalties.
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“If that’s the only way teams are finding to beat us, that’s pretty good for us,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles, who also noted that he has faced 16 penalties since joining New York in July 2012.
“Of course we have to limit those mistakes and those opportunities they get, [but] defensively, since the first couple of games, we’ve done a good job of shoring things up, getting on the same page and that’s why the team’s been successful.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.