UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — The theme of New York Red Bulls training over the past few days has been defense. Head coach Hans Backe wants his team to once again be the side that was among the MLS leaders in goals-against average in 2010.
“More cynical — [we’re] giving away too many unforced errors,” Backe said of what he wants — and doesn’t want — to see from his squad. “We get breaks against us too much, at the end of the day, a team will score.”
That may mean the Red Bulls will get ugly in their approach to the awaiting game on Saturday night in Dallas (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online). Style points don’t factor into the MLS table, and New York understand that the best way to make the playoffs is to start putting some clean sheets up on the scoreboard.
“If you get the clean sheet, you’re assuring yourself that you get at least a tie and get some points, so that even if you don’t score, you won’t lose,” defensive midfielder Stéphane Auvray told MLSsoccer.com. “We need to do that as a team I think; really work hard to defend as a team and try to limit our own mistakes because that can cost you. We need to be optimistic when we play, and play together as a team. If we do that, we do good things because this is a great team.”
A positive first step for the Red Bulls came last Saturday night as, even while playing the entire second half down a man, New York held the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps to just a single goal.
Even so, errors and mistakes must be cut out if the Red Bulls are to find the form that carried them to the regular-season Eastern Conference title last year.
Last year, Backe’s team allowed just 29 goals over the 30-game MLS season. This year, the Red Bulls have played 27 games and conceded 38 goals. The 24 percent jump in goals allowed is a worrisome trend and major reason why New York went from top of the conference in June all the way down to sixth as autumn approaches.
For defender Chris Albright, being “cynical” means that the Red Bulls must become no-nonsense along the backline and stop taking unnecessary risks that he believes are exposing the team.
“Stop trying to be cute playing out of the back so much," Albright explained to MLSsoccer.com. It’s about the results right now."
Those results have to come, even if it means “kicking the ball out of bounds or 60 yards up the field when necessary,” according to Albright.
It may be cynical, but for a team on the ropes, cynicism might be the only solution.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com and can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer