UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe had a stated goal of running out the same backline for several games at a time. With that cohesion was supposed to come a level of consistency that has eluded his team this season.
But it hasn't been so. Backe has gone with the backline foursome of Connor Lade, Markus Holgersson, Heath Pearce and Wilman Conde for most of the past month, and rather than end the slow drip of goals, they've suddenly become more vulnerable on both crosses and direct, Route 1 attacks.
Whether it has been goalkeeper Bill Gaudette coming too far off his line or Heath Pearce and Holgersson failing to communicate with him and each other, New York have found ways to get caught out in three of their last five games. That has contributed to their picking up just six points in that span – and they know it needs correcting.
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“If you look at the D.C. game, if you look at the Kansas City away game, those are goals that are scored over the top and those were for a lack of communication,” Pearce told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “They weren’t for lack of positioning or lack of [tactical awareness]. We were in the spots to make plays and we just didn’t. It was a communication issue.
“But anytime that you can continue to get games and continue to jell as a back line, it’s going to pay dividends hopefully in the long run and hopefully come playoff time, we’ll be a difficult team to score on.”
The Red Bulls are still in good standing in terms of reaching the postseason, but that does not mean they can overlook their final four games of the year. New York still need to pick up some wins in order to help solidify their spot in the playoffs, starting with this Saturday’s home match against Toronto FC (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Still, Backe is not concerned by the recent communication problems despite the issues popping up this late into the season.
“As soon as you pick up some wins it’s like, ‘Whoops’ [and forgotten about], then you just keep rolling and everything is working well,” said Backe. “The communication, sometimes there are a couple of weeks when it’s not working, but you will probably get out of it quite quick.”
Backe added that the only way for the defense to rectify the issue is to continue working on it during training sessions, and he admitted he is still happy overall with how they have held up in recent games.
Red Bulls players agree with that notion and remain upbeat heading into the final few games of the year despite their recent struggles.
“We’ve had a good string of games together, we haven’t gotten the results we’ve wanted,” said Pearce, "but as a group, we’re confident."
Meara on road to recovery
Rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara was seen back in uniform at the Red Bulls' training field on Wednesday, as he continued his rehabilitation on the injured hip that has sidelined him for the season.