On several occasions this season, New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke has attributed disappointing results to a lack of urgency at the start of games.
Saturday was the most recent example of that, as the Red Bulls fell below .500 (3-4-5) on the year with a 2-0 loss to Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon.
New York were a bit shorthanded due to the international departures of starters Roy Miller and Tim Cahill and a late calf injury to midfielder Peguy Luyindula, but that still was not enough to explain why the club struggled so mightily out of the gates against a Toronto side missing midfield ace Michael Bradley.
Petke’s side was sloppy at the start of the game, and it only took 11 minutes before that translated into a goal for the hosts. Kosuke Kimura played an ill-advised pass to Dax McCarty, who was marked tightly and wound up losing the ball on a play that ended with Jermain Defoe smashing a shot past Luis Robles.
“We shoot ourselves in the foot again the first 10 minutes and then we’re chasing the game,” said McCarty. “It’s disappointing because you always feel like you can play better, particularly in the midfield. You always want to pass the ball better, you always want to take care of the ball better, and we didn’t do that today, especially in the first half, so it’s frustrating.”
What makes it even worse is that there currently seems to be no exact science as to how to solve New York’s early-game woes. Petke said after last week’s 5-4 defeat to the Chicago Fire that he did not have the exact remedy to cure the problem, and the bad habit reared its ugly head again in the opening minutes of Saturday's game before the Red Bulls picked things up.
“Urgency, taking better care of the ball, putting ourselves in better situations, yadda yadda,” said Petke on why the Red Bulls looked better in the second half vs. Toronto FC. “It’s the same thing for the last couple of weeks. First half is flat, second half is strong. That’s the way it is.”
New York did have a chance to erase their bleak start and split the points with the Reds in the second half on a wide-open chance that red-hot forward Bradley Wright-Phillips somehow kicked over the crossbar and into the stands. That forced the Red Bulls to push numbers forward late, which led to the insurance goal from Toronto FC substitute Luke Moore.
Some observers may point the finger at Wright-Phillips for the loss – but not the Red Bulls, because they know that their poor start is what ultimately did them in.
“No one on this team can fault Bradley Wright-Phillips for anything,” said Thierry Henry. “He’s been tremendous for us since the beginning of the season and he missed this one and I’m sure he’s going to score a lot [more] for us this season.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.