There is no denying that the New York Red Bulls were shorthanded on Saturday night. They were missing Designated Players Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, super-sub Lloyd Sam and versatile veteran Kosuke Kimura.
Not to mention head coach Mike Petke, who served a one-game suspension in a suite. None of that was why they lost to the Columbus Crew, however. At least, not according to them.
Following a 2-0 defeat at Crew Stadium that knocked them out of first place in the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls once again cited a lack of effort and misplaced mentality as reasons for why their road woes returned in a humbling loss to Columbus. New York were on the retreat from the opening whistle and struggled to create much offensively without Henry and Cahill (both injured), and that allowed the Crew to win the possession battle before Federico Higuain scored a second-half brace that left the Red Bulls uttering words that have been heard on more than one occasion this season.
"We didn't come with quite the right mentality and as a result we kind of put ourselves behind the eight ball," said Red Bulls assistant coach Robin Fraser, who filled in for Petke on the sidelines. "To be fair, we hung in there and we were plugging along and trying to find our way forward and obviously, [Higuain's penalty kick in the 62nd minute is] a disappointing goal to give up."
To New York's credit, they held Higuain and Columbus largely in check for much of the opening 45 minutes. But the Red Bulls' inability to be dangerous when they had the ball proved costly, as the Crew sent waves of attacks at the visitors' back line before Higuain opened the scoring through a spot kick that was questionable according to the visitors.
"I'm just really surprised by how the second half went," said Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles, who was New York's best player on the night. "The first half we came out with a gameplan. We knew we were on the road and we didn't want to sit too far back at times and we did, but that was the way the game dictated it. In the second half, once the penalty got called on us, it just completely changed the whole scope of the game.
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"From our standpoint, we just have to react better to that. We understand that some calls are going to go our way and some aren't, but regardless it's about how we react to it."
Now the Red Bulls will have to regroup before they host the Philadelphia Union next weekend. Still, even a win there will not be enough to disspell the notion that New York sputter when they play away from Red Bull Arena.
"We are very disappointed," said right back Brandon Barklage. "Once again on the road, I don't thnk we came out 100 percent effort."