The New York Red Bulls headed into halftime of their match against the Colorado Rapids knowing they were playing an ugly brand of soccer, but they still felt good knowing that the game was scoreless.
Then, an early second-half strike from Nathan Sturgis changed that.
The Red Bulls lost for the third time in their last four league matches on Thursday night, falling 2-0 to the Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, and it was Sturgis' 47th-minute blast that ultimately paved the way for their latest July 4 defeat. Sturgis pounced on a rebound right in front of goal following a corner kick from the right, smashing it into the back of the net to give Colorado the lead and leave a frustrated New York side to deviate from their gameplan.
OPTA Chalkboard: Red Bulls lack precision with passes in loss to Rapids
"Before the goal, it was to pretty much continue defensively what we did in the first half, which was be very stingy [and] get in solid shape," Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told reporters after the match. "Once we got that goal, we gave up the goal very early, you're almost forced to push a little bit more even though you have 43 minutes left and then the game just opens up and it becomes a you-know-what show."
The Red Bulls players agreed with Petke's assessment, saying that the early strike from Sturgis demoralized them and put them in a hole that they were unable to climb out of.
"The early goal just deflates you," Dax McCarty told reporters. "It's just a set piece. They aren't dangerous the whole game, one set piece, and it's a broken play. What can you say? It's a broken play, it's a lucky goal and Sturgis finishes off well."
Sturgis' strike may have put New York in a tough spot but they were admittedly poor for much of the night. The Red Bulls lacked precision on many of their passes, seemed to run out of ideas in the attacking third and failed to challenge Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin on the few chances they did have in front of goal.
"We weren't sharp tonight," said McCarty, who was uncharacteristically stripped of the ball that led to Deshorn Brown's insurance goal in the 68th minute. "Our movement, our passing, everything was just a little bit off."