The New York Red Bulls have looked poised to make a jump up the Eastern Conference standings in recent weeks, but their inconsistent form continued in Week 21, when they lost 3-2 to Columbus Crew SC at Red Bull Arena.
Crew SC's Pedro Santos scored a brace that helped overturn a deficit, even with a Daniel Royer penalty sandwiched between the Portuguese winger's strikes. It was the Crew's second win on the trot, after winning just once in their previous 16 league games.
The Red Bulls were left chagrined by their performance.
"We got out-dueled, we got out competed, we got outscored," goalkeeper Luis Robles told reporters after the game. "The worst part is it's at home, right in front of our fans, which doesn't do us any favors, especially when you look at the standings, and you'll see that it's very tight, and the teams behind us won tonight. So, it just makes the task all the more difficult. But I think personally, it's just such a letdown for us, and that's something that we really have to deal with. It's a reality check."
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Robles wasn't finished, indicating the Red Bulls will have "to be real with one another" in training next week, after establishing themselves as a perennial Supporters' Shield contender — and often winner — in recent years.
"Going into the season, last year, we were the best defense in the league, we were setting all sorts of records, and maybe there's just a little bit of complacency there," he said. "...The goals against average doesn’t look too well and when you look at our defensive line, multiple All-Stars, guys that represent the national team, top defenders, and yet we're not playing with the same intensity. We're not playing with the same commitment, we’re not playing with the same intelligence as we did last year. And maybe we're not playing with the same sort of chip on our shoulder that we have to prove something. We have to really show so that people around the league take notice. We've become a little too complacent."
Head coach Chris Armas echoed Robles' comments with his assessment.
"What we are most disappointed with? Losing, losing at home, and probably the most disappointing thing is that, you know, you wait all week and you prepare for gameday: A chance to take a step forward; a chance to inch a few points out of first place, to get into second place; a chance to know that you're making progress; to give our supporters something they can feel proud of," Armas said.
"This is the opportunity. There is nothing like gameday. We feel like we wasted that opportunity tonight. Not enough energy. Not enough urgency. Not enough commitment to the details, and all the things that make us good. Teams don't come here — home and away, we don't play in games that we go 20 shots. Just our good stuff wasn't good enough tonight," he continued.
New York are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, only five points out of 1st place and part of a pack of seven teams sitting within four points of each other at present. Even with the frustration from the loss, Robles hasn't given up hope the Red Bulls can get on track this season.
"Blame it on me being a half-full guy and thinking that I can help this team and this locker room be the best that we can be," he said. "And I'd like to think that I could still give more and get more out of guys. And so that's the standard I'm going to hold myself to and I know that I can do it. So I guess that leaves me feeling optimistic. But then when you just look at the roster and you go down the list, some really key, quality, talented guys there. And when we play up to our ability and our potential, the sky's the limit. We just haven't done it yet."