Despite their recent offensive struggles, the New York Red Bulls can certainly point to a renewed emphasis on their defensive shape and presence over the past three weeks.
Since trading for defensive midfielder Dax McCarty (above) four games ago, the Red Bulls have conceded just three goals during that stretch, a marked improvement in their play leading up to the move. In the four games before the arrival of McCarty, New York let in 10 goals, a horrible stretch of play for a team that was the top-ranked defense last year. But now, the Red Bulls seem to be clamping down on opponents and limiting chances, perhaps in perfect time for a big second-half run.
Saturday night’s 0-0 draw with Civas USA drew a rave review from head coach Hans Backe, as the Red Bulls limited the Rojiblancos to very few chances.
“Overall [it was] good defending,” Backe said. “We didn’t allow one shot on goal.”
Joining McCarty — a tenacious box-to-box player who has helped the midfield add some bite over the past four matches — is last week’s signing of Frank Rost. The German goalkeeper made his MLS debut this past weekend and with his 400 appearances in the Bundesliga, brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to his new club.
Given the Red Bulls recent run of poor defense, typified by an alarming number of set piece goals, penalty kicks and miscues along the back line, the veteran Rost will be counted on to help solidify the net.
If Saturday night is any indication, the defensive unit better get accustomed to a mouthful from the shot-stopper on a regular basis. Backe said he expects Rost to “be really hard on the defenders [and] their positioning” and center back Tim Ream jokingly called Rost “loud.” But while Rost is vocal, Ream praised the goalkeeper’s ability to help the defense stay aware and maintain their proper shape.
“Communication is the biggest key on the back line,” Ream said. “With him behind us and communicating and really telling us where to be, when to be, and how to position ourselves, it makes our job easier. It was a smooth transition and he’s definitely a big part of the back line now.”
And with Wednesday night's match at Colorado looming (9:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), Rost’s ability to organize and communicate will be tested. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is a wide pitch at altitude and the home team boasts the always-dangerous Omar Cummings. The speedy Jamaican international has just two goals and three assists this year for the defending MLS Cup champions, but he possesses game-changing skill.
“I remember the game last year,” Ream added. “He caused fits. He’s a fast forward, he’s got good feet, good skill on the ball. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Despite his substitution with just minutes left in the Chivas tie and battling a nagging groin injury, defensive midfielder Teemu Tainio trained with the team Tuesday. Tainio suffered a thigh injury but is expected to be available for the starting XI in Colorado.
Defender Rafa Márquez, out since the Gold Cup final with a hamstring injury, has begun training but won't play Wednesday night.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer