HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls may have conceded a goal to D.C. United 31 seconds into their game on Sunday, but that did not stop head coach Hans Backe from calling his team’s first-half performance possibly the best since he took over in 2010.
Backe made the bold proclamation following the Red Bulls’ 3-2 victory over their archrivals, a result that tied the two teams atop the Eastern Conference with 30 points. And although New York fell behind before most inside Red Bull Arena knew the match had even started, the way the Red Bulls dominated the remainder of a first half in which they took a 2-1 lead was enough to please Backe and the record crowd in attendance.
“The first 45 is definitely the best we’ve been playing, probably since I arrived I would say,” Backe told reporters during his postgame press conference. “As I said at halftime, the passing game is phenomenal, very few unforced errors and the movement's top-class.”
Backe was not the only Red Bull to say something along those lines following the match. In fact, his words were a common refrain in the locker room.
HIGHLIGHTS: NY 3, DC 2
"[It was] one of our greatest efforts,” said Designated Player Rafa Márquez, who lined up at center back on Sunday. “But knowing that we have this ability to perform so well, we need to try and play at this level in every game.”
The Red Bulls were able to play at a high level for much of the first half due to Joel Lindpere, Mehdi Ballouchy and Dax McCarty bossing the midfield against the likes of Dwayne De Rosario, Perry Kitchen and Nick DeLeon. New York pinned United deep in their own half at times and created a number of chances.
The goals eventually came, albeit from two unlikely sources. Former United player and current Red Bulls defender Brandon Barklage scored his first two MLS goals with a pair of well-taken strikes, while Jan Gunnar Solli added the winner – his first MLS tally, as well – off a rebounded effort in the second half.
As surprising as Barklage and Solli’s contributions may have been, this Red Bulls season has seen role players execute in many timely moments and that’s part of the reason why New York currently sit atop the Eastern Conference.
“The group is more competitive,” said Solli. “It shows when one gets injured and the other one has a chance to come in and do well. It’s about taking opportunities. Everybody who is here wants to play and that is what it’s about."
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.