CARSON, Calif. – As expected, the New York Red Bulls came out on fire against the LA Galaxy on Thursday night like their lives depended on it. Down a goal on aggregate, they had no choice but to push the game on the top defensive team in the league.
And it worked, at first. Luke Rodgers’ fourth-minute goal put the Galaxy back on their heels and New York controlled the tempo for another 10 minutes.
But then holding midfielder Teemu Tainio pulled up lame with a hamstring injury, forcing head coach Hans Backe to pull him for Stéphane Auvray. At that point, that match became more about who was off the pitch than who was on it.
“Massive blow to lose Tainio that early in the game,” Backe told reporters in the postgame press conference. “[He’s] definitely a key player – without [Rafa] Márquez and Tainio, it’s quite difficult.”
The moment Tainio was forced to the sidelines, the Red Bulls were forced to deal with all kinds of different variables. Their advantage without LA’s dynamic Juninho in the lineup was erased, allowing the Galaxy to push forward. David Beckham found more space in which to work and balls were more easily funneled forward to Robbie Keane in the box, who terrorized New York’s back four all night.
“At that point, when [Tainio] was taken out, we had to re-figure out how to play, how to keep our organization,” said midfielder Dax McCarty, who was filling in for the suspended Márquez. “Unfortunately, the Galaxy kind of took advantage of that.”
Sure enough, LA got their breakthrough after buzzing around Frank Rost’s net for the rest of the half. Mike Magee headed in Beckham’s corner kick in the 42nd minute to swing the aggregate-goal advantage back LA’s way.
“We dropped a little bit too deep after getting in front that early and gave them probably a bit too much possession in the first half,” said Backe. “When we got our turnovers or breaks, it was we attacked too quick, it was final passes from the back four and we lost the ball and had to defend for 10, 15, 20 minutes in the first half.
Without Tainio to provide the link-up play from the back, New York couldn’t get organized.
“[Tainio] is involved in almost every buildup from the back four when he drops from his midfield position,” Backe continued. “He’s the guy with the precise final pass in our attacking game and also the guy sitting in front of the center back[s] being a kind of cleaner, so we lost both the attacking and defending.”
And in the end, they lost the game and the series to the more composed – and opportunistic – team.