HARRISON, N.J. – In what might have been their most disappointing display of the year, the New York Red Bulls looked like a shell of the team that has been near the top of the league the past two years in their 3-1 home loss to the LA Galaxy on Sunday.
The defeat was nothing short of a major disappointment for New York, who have now lost three in a row. Especially puzzling is that the underwhelming performance came at Red Bull Arena, where, prior to Sunday’s loss, New York hadn’t lost a regular season match since last April.
The Galaxy slammed the door on that 19-game unbeaten run on Sunday, taking advantage of the Red Bulls’ individual mistakes to score a pair of early goals and drop New York to fifth in the Eastern Conference.
“The way we played in the first half had nothing to do with tactics. It had nothing to do with game plan,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said after the match. “It had – you know, listen, LA has a good start, but we have an absolutely dreadful start, and the confidence and life in our team was just sucked out of us.
“And so instead of having a response like, ‘No problem, down 2-0, we've got this, right? It's early, there's plenty to play for, we're at home, we're going to go after this bit by bit, play-by-play,’ you just saw shakiness and nervousness and fear. So again, that falls on my shoulders and my leadership. I've got to find a way to make sure that this group understands exactly who we are and who we need to be at all times. At all times.”
The Galaxy game plan worked to perfection and the match actually looked similar to the Red Bulls’ playoff exits the past two years. Utilizing quick ball movement and cross-field switches, LA found space behind the Red Bulls high press. From there, they were able to run at the New York backline, an effective strategy even as they held only 32 percent possession on the night.
The strategy led to counterattacking opportunities for LA as the Red Bulls’ repeatedly lost their defensive shape while chasing the game.
"It's a bit bizarre to me, I can't really figure it out. We talked all week about being us, and doing what makes us so good, especially when we're at home, and in the first ten minutes, we come out and play like an amateur team,” said captain Sacha Kljestan. “It's hard to explain. I think some guys are lacking confidence right now and aren't confident on the ball."
Things won’t get any easier for the Red Bulls this week, as they’ll welcome MLS-leading Toronto FC – winners of six in a row – to Red Bull Arena on Friday night (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE in the US, TSN in Canada).
For a team now in the midst of a three-game losing skid, it would seem to be a match where they must get a result. But it isn’t a must-win according to Marsch.
“No. No. It's definitely not a must-win,” he said. “I mean, we've already gathered enough points to, you know, feel like the season is all there for us. But what's the bigger challenge is, this isn't about points and standings right now. It's about identity. It's about making sure that the belief system of who we are, what we are, what we do, you know, that's – that's where we're at right now.
“That's what – it doesn't make it a crisis, but it certainly has to be a massive, massive learning moment, massive. Massive slap in the face, massive.”