If the New York Red Bulls learned one thing in their latest flat performance on the road, it is just how crucial Dax McCarty is to the team.
Playing without their converted defensive midfielder due to yellow-card accumulation, the Red Bulls endured one of their poorest performances this season in their 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium on Friday night, a result that saw the surging Houston side leapfrog New York into first place in the Eastern Conference.
McCarty’s absence forced head coach Hans Backe to have to field a central midfield tandem of Tim Cahill and Teemu Tainio, two players who just recently returned to the field and were not expected to play a full 90 minutes. That showed from the opening whistle, as the Red Bulls failed to match the energy the Dynamo had inside of their hot and humid fortress.
Highlights: Dynamo 2, Red Bulls 0
“That happens,” Backe told reporters of McCarty’s absence. “We have a decent depth now, so we have to just live with it. Players will be out suspended or with injuries.”
Backe may not have made any grandiose proclamations about missing McCarty, but he is more than likely to have discussions with his coaching staff about the blue-collared midfielder’s absence when they go over the game film in preparations for next week’s rematch inside of Red Bull Arena.
That’s because when McCarty is on the field he serves as the primary link between the back four and the attack, and he also plays as a third centerback when New York have their fullbacks push deep into the attack. On those instances, the two central defenders drift wider than usual and McCarty sits in the middle of them, creating a three-man back line in a tactic that has proven to work for Backe and the Red Bulls.
With the unfit Tainio, however, that plan never seemed to exist. That resulted in New York’s center backs staying tight in the center of the field while the wings were left exposed when the fullbacks got forward. Tainio also could not bring the same type of work rate customary of McCarty after having played earlier in the week in a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur.
And that allowed the talented Dynamo to crowd the midfield, dominate possession with little resistance and ultimately stymie the Red Bulls en route to picking up three points with ease.
“That was tough,” Cahill said. “Without a shadow of a doubt, they come with a game plan, they filled the midfield, they put pressure on us and you could see they put a lot of balls into the box from set pieces and even open play. It just wasn’t our night tonight.”
McCarty will be back for next Friday night’s game against the Dynamo at Red Bull Arena, and it’s a safe bet that he will start. After all, the unheralded midfielder’s performances this year are a big reason as to why New York were ever in first to begin with.
The Red Bulls know that now more than ever.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.