HARRISON, N.J. – It would have been easy for the New York Red Bulls to point to Saturday’s controversial penalty kick as the turning point in their home opener.
But they placed their focus on something else: the need to get better.
The Red Bulls settled for a disappointing 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids on Saturday afternoon despite having the lion’s share of possession for much of the 90 minutes. New York jumped out in front via a diving-header goal from Thierry Henry in the 57th minute, but later conceded the equalizer after a controversial penalty that Colorado's Vicente Sanchez slotted home in the 72nd minute. The result left the Red Bulls, last year's Supporters' Shield winners, without a victory in their first two matches of the 2014 season.
After the match, the Red Bulls repeatedly made one thing clear and it had nothing to do with referee Alan Kelly's decision to whistle center back Jamison Olave for a foul on Marvin Chavez inside the 18-yard box.
“It was an unfortunate goal for us to give up, but at times we lacked creativity and imagination, in the second half specifically,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told reporters during his press conference. “Having said that, there were a couple goals to be had and we just weren’t able to get the winner.”
The Red Bulls did not find one, but they knocked on the door several times late through a flurry of chances. Still, New York confessed that they should have been better across the board to seal the three points that slipped out of their hands.
“The response has got to be better, [after] going 1-0 up,” said midfielder Lloyd Sam, who assisted on Henry’s opener. “All of a sudden we were panicking a lot at the back and little other things that weren’t happening when it was 0-0. That’s a concern also.
“When we go up, we’ve got to stay levelheaded.”
New York are doing just that in terms of their start to the season. Yes, the Red Bulls are winless through two matches, but they know from experience that it is not even close to panic time yet.
In 2013, the Red Bulls had to wait until their fifth match of the year to have their first taste of victory and they still went on to claim the Supporters’ Shield, an achievement the club and its fans celebrated prior to kickoff Saturday with a banner unveiling and a huge tifo paying tribute to Petke.
That's why the Red Bulls are not overly concerned with their performances, even if they know they could be drastically improved upon.
“It’s a 34-game season,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles. “I would much rather we sort out our insufficiencies right now. That was the theme last year: If we can peak at the right time, which we did, then we’ll be a much more dangerous team at the end of the season than, say, the middle of the season.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.