Perhaps all the star power in Major League Soccer couldn’t have helped the New York Red Bulls in their latest outing, a flat 4-1 loss on Wednesday that exposed a team suddenly struggling to live up to expectations.
The Red Bulls struggled in nearly every aspect of the game against the defending MLS Cup champions, and they’re learning that it isn’t enough to just show up for a game and expect a win. The gloss of a 5-0 win over Toronto FC on July 6 is surely gone now, dulled by two losses and a scoreless draw in the Red Bulls’ last three games, and just one goal to show for their efforts.
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“We made so many mistakes in between each other, the understanding, the knowledge in between,” head coach Hans Backe said. “I haven’t seen that many [mistakes] in one and a half years with the team. It wasn’t us at all.”
The Rapids took advantage of their chances, scoring a goal via Sanna Nyassi within the opening 75 seconds when the Gambian attacker diced through the New York defense. Before the night was through Nyassi had punished the New York centerback pairing of Carlos Mendes and Tim Ream for his first career hat trick and an assist on a Wells Thompson goal.
But as precise in their finishing as the Rapids were — and the home side fully deserved their three points — they also had a sloppy Red Bulls team to thank for their big win.
New York’s defense, which had conceded just three goals in their previous four games, rolled over in this one, allowing three goals in the first 31 minutes of the match. Right back Jan Gunnar Solli called it “the worst possible start.”
“When you come to a place like Colorado with the altitude and everything, you have to start well,” midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy said. “It seemed like the legs were heavy for whatever reason and our shape, we didn’t slide for each other — we didn’t defend for each other.”
For a team that last year set the league mark in fewest goals conceded, it was an outing to forget.
“We didn’t show up in the first half,” Backe said.
Poor giveaways out of the backline coupled with lackluster man-marking, little movement in the midfield and absolutely no spark in the attacking third doomed New York to the blowout loss. The Rapids were content to play to their strengths, hitting New York on the counterattack as New York had 60 percent of possession in the loss — an overwhelming edge that they turned into just three shots on goal.
Thierry Henry scored his league-leading 10th goal of the season in the 67th minute off an assist from Juan Agudelo, but by then there were far too many questions still left unanswered by a Red Bulls defense let this one get away from the opening whistle.
“Nightmare defending in the middle of the park, nightmare for our two centerbacks and the center midfield,” Backe said. “If you leave that much space for guys like [Omar] Cummings and Nyassi then you will be in trouble, definitely. They are deadly with the pace they have. I don’t know really why we gave away that space.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer