HARRISON, N.J. – Much of the conversation following the New York Red Bulls’ scoreless draw with D.C. United this past weekend centered around the Red Bulls’ offense creating a number of chances and subsequently failing to find the back of the net.
What wasn't as big of a talking point but equally as important for New York was the play of their defense, which showed marked improvement from the way they had played in the first two weeks of the season.
The Red Bulls earned their first clean sheet of the campaign this past Saturday at Red Bull Arena, and the manner in which they did so is encouraging after a pair of frustrating results on the road that came in part because of shoddy defending. Not only did the backline limit United's potent attack to just four shots, but it also suffocated them with relentless pressure high up the field, the kind of play that head coach Mike Petke has been drilling into his players since being put in charge of the club.
“It’s a very, very strong performance from us defensively and I think we just gave ourselves a little more confidence the week leading up to it,” said midfielder Dax McCarty. “We knew we were at home, we recognized where they were dangerous and the main key was we pressured them immediately. As soon as we lost the ball, guys were fighting like hell to get the ball back.
“When you don’t give good players like [Chris] Pontius and [Dwayne] De Rosario time on the ball, that’s the key to being very successful defensively and we didn’t do that [previously].”
Another reason for that defensive success was the insertion of Markus Holgersson, who earned his first start under Petke. The Swedish defender teamed up with Jámison Olave in central defense (Heath Pearce slid over to left back) and the two looked nothing like the center back tandem that struggled at times in preseason.
“Communication was perfect,” said Holgersson. “We help each other out. We know he’s really strong and I try to pick up the pieces and then if I don’t he helps me. It was good, it was good to play with Heath and Brandon [Barklage] also. They are smart players who can read the game, so it was a good effort back there.”
With Roy Miller away on international duty, it appears the back four Petke deployed against United will remain intact when the Red Bulls visit the undefeated Montreal Impact this Saturday. Even if they don’t, the Red Bulls will look back at the defensive performance against United as a benchmark for how they should play from this point on.
“To me, it was almost kind of reminiscent of how Barcelona tries to win the ball back,” said McCarty before snapping his fingers. “It was immediate pressure as soon as we turned the ball over and it’s a commitment to defend that we haven’t seen much in the past.”