It was a result that the Red Bulls had to have, even if Saturday afternoon in Vancouver left them a bit wanting.
New York took a five-hour flight to British Columbia on Thursday, fielded a hodgepodge starting XI that was missing key starters, and lost defender Carlos Mendes because of a mid-game injury — and yet the team was still disappointed with its 1-1 draw with the Whitecaps.
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“We really wanted three points," Jan Gunnar Solli told MLSsoccer.com. “We’ve had too many draws. Every game though is difficult right now.”
A Luke Rodgers goal in the 34th minute leveled the game 10 minutes after Eric Hassli's penalty kick gave the home team the lead. The Red Bulls' winless streak now stands at five games, which includes three consecutive ties.
But with leading goalscorer Thierry Henry staying home to tend to his injured right knee, and midfielder Dane Richards and defender Rafa Marquez both away with their national teams for the Gold Cup, the Red Bulls starting XI looked nothing like a first-choice unit.
Instead, players filled in where they wouldn't normally play. Forward Juan Agudelo deputized on the left wing, while Jan Gunnar Solli, usually a right back, slotted in at right midfield to help solidify the Red Bulls' depleted lineup.
Though the final product overall was far from pretty, New York showed plenty of heart against a determined opponent.
“We gave away a penalty, again, but somehow we managed to come back,” Solli said. “We got the equalizer, but in the second half it was still a battle for us.”
Solli assisted on Rodgers’ fifth goal of the season with a drive from the top of the penalty area that the diminutive striker right-footed into the back of the net.
“It was a lucky assist to be honest,” Solli said. “I got a long pass from Roy Miller and I just hit the ball, and Luke was just there to score the goal. Of course, it’s nice to get the assist, though.”
Five players will now leave the Red Bulls starting XI as they join their respective national teams. It will be up to the team’s lesser-used players such as Matt Kassel and Austin da Luz — both of whom made their MLS debuts in the second half in Vancouver — to continue to churn out results.
So, for the next three weeks, the flashiest side in MLS will now have to will their way to results, rather than dominate.
“Now we are a little bit short on people, but we showed a lot of character,” Solli said. “Three games in I think eight days with a lot of travel is certainly difficult.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer