For more than a month now, the Red Bulls have victimized themselves with poor execution in defending set pieces, a storyline which was on display in full force on Thursday night in their 4-2 loss to Seattle.
The first three Sounders goals came via dead ball situations, dooming New York to play catch-up from a deep hole early in the match.
"Conceding three goals on corners hurt us. It's ridiculous. You can't win games that way," said head coach Hans Backe after the match. "The way we defend against corners absolutely has to stop now."
Since May 7, the Red Bulls have hemorrhaged goals in dead ball situations, a prominent factor in why this team has just one win over a nine-game stretch.
How bad has it been? All told in league play, New York have given up 18 goals over nine matches. Most worrisome for the Red Bulls is that 13 of those goals during that stretch have come via set pieces, corner kicks, or from the penalty spot.
But on Thursday night, the Red Bulls abandoned their zonal marking system on set pieces where players mark turf to go man-to-man instead.
“We were trying to do something different because we’ve conceded too many goals on set pieces,” Jan Gunnar Solli told MLSsoccer.com. “A little unlucky to let these in.”
The Red Bulls conceded set piece goals No. 11 and No. 12 through corner kicks within the first 12 minutes of the match to put themselves immediately on their heels. Set piece goal No. 13, via the head of Roger Levesque, also arrived through a corner kick midway through the second half and gave the home side the lead for good.
Just one of Seattle’s four scores came from the run of play, another example of how over the last month the Red Bulls have given away the chance at points through their sloppy play during dead ball situations.
Thursday night’s match was one where the Red Bulls were far from being outplayed. New York held a significant edge in possession, maintaining the ball 62.6 percent of the match and holding steady with the home side in terms of shots, shots on goal and corner kicks.
Even after going down 2-0 in the opening dozen minutes, the Red Bulls battled back with a wonder goal from Dane Richards and an own goal set-up by Solli.
“Set pieces are our problem. We were actually playing well, especially after the equalizing goal,” Solli said. “At 2-2, I felt like we were the team in control.”
If the Red Bulls had not conceded those 13 goals from set pieces thus far in the season, they would have an additional 18 points in standings. Five draws would have been wins, as would two losses. Instead, New York are left ruing their defective defending.
"We have conceded 21 goals and 13 of them have been from set plays," said Backe. "That has to be stopped."
Said Solli, “I think we came out strong. I feel like we controlled the game after the equalizer. But it’s not good enough.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer