HARRISON, N.J. — The Red Bulls hosted Vancouver on Saturday night, tentatively grasping the 10th and final playoff spot. But rather than show up looking to take the bull by the horns to get some valuable points, New York played tight and without any type of spark, and their lackadaisical first half doomed them to a 1-1 tie.
It was more dropped points for the Red Bulls, who are now 6-6-15 this year in an MLS campaign where too many possible wins have instead resulted in ties.
On paper, this was a Red Bulls team vastly superior to the expansion Whitecaps. Even with left back Roy Miller and goalkeeper Frank Rost out with injuries and midfielder Teemu Tainio suspended, this was a game that New York, with their playoff future on the line and a star-studded lineup, should have won.
“It’s just a mentality — I don’t know what it is,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We seem to have the right frame of mind going into games. We have a lot of talented players. A lot of ‘shoulds’ are associated with our lineup. We should win every game. We should dominate all the games.”
But as Saturday night showed, when the Red Bulls snooze, they often tie.
Compounding their slow, listless start — including a David Chiumiento goal in the 23rd minute to put New York in a hole — was Jan Gunnar Solli’s red card on the stroke of halftime. Chasing down a through ball from Eric Hassli, the Red Bulls right back fouled Vancouver’s Camilo, earning a straight ejection from referee Terry Vaughn.
Chiumiento’s tally gave the Whitecaps a lead heading into halftime, continuing a worrisome trend for the Red Bulls, who have fallen behind in their last four games.
“It’s one of those things you just feel like it’s not one thing, one player. It’s a mentality,” center back Carlos Mendes said. “We were a goal down and then we started to control the game [vs. Vancouver]. You got to take the mentality from the start. We need to fix it quick because we don’t want to keep chasing games.”
Especially worrisome for New York is their recent drop in form. After rushing to the top of the Eastern Conference in April and May, New York have been in a rut, displaying mediocre form for most of July and August, and now in September, too.
Head coach Hans Backe said that the long delay between games — the Red Bulls hadn’t played since Aug. 20 because their Aug. 28 game vs. the LA Galaxy was rescheduled due to Hurricane Irene — was partially the culprit for their lethargy in the first half. Despite the negatives, the coach was happy with the spirit the squad showed in the second half.
“You never really know,” Backe said. “It can be tricky when you have some days off from the last game. Of course going one [goal] down, getting one player red-carded, the way the players [fought] back in the second half, the work ethic was phenomenal. And at the end of the day, we could have won this game with only nine outfield players. That was very good to see in the second half.”
Down a man, New York battled back to equalize in the 68th minute via Juan Agudelo’s sixth goal of the season. In fact, after Solli got his marching orders, the Red Bulls seemed energized. They pressed and attacked in numbers, but their quiet start doomed them to another match of playing catch-up.
“It seems like every mistake we make, we get punished for,” McCarty said. “It’s frustrating, for sure. We’re not out of it yet, no matter what the media or fans may think. We’re a confident group. We got to get a win; we keep saying that. I think we keep going with this whole theme of ‘next game we need to get a win.’ It’s all B.S. until we actually put it together and get a win.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed for Red Bulls news at twitter.com/KristianRDyer