After their season opener Sunday at Sporting Park that ended, 1-1, the New York Red Bulls left both pleased and disappointed.
A point on the road against a good team is commendable, especially in the team’s first league game under new head coach Jesse Marsch, but had not Dom Dwyer failed to convert two great chances late in the second half they would have left with nothing. And both of those opportunities came with the Red Bulls playing up a man, following the dismissal of centerback Matt Besler with a second yellow he incurred by chopping down Bradley Wright-Phillips at midfield in the 70th minute.
Marsch accentuated the positives in a conference call with reporters Monday, citing metrics that showed the Red Bulls superior in possession and entries into the attacking third. They equalized early in the second half just four minutes after going behind with a great shot by Lloyd Sam, who cut dribbled through midfield, then cut the ball back to curl a shot inside the far post from well outside the penalty area.
“As much as we know we can play better and we’re disappointed with the result,” said Marsch, “what’s important at the beginning of the year is that you pick up points while you’re continuing to put the identity of who you want to be in place. In that sense, I think we did a very good job.”
Yet the Red Bulls played more tepidly in the final 20 minutes than they had leading up to Besler’s dismissal. Midfielder Dax McCarty railed at his teammates in the final seconds following a leg save by keeper Luis Robles that denied Dwyer a point-blank chance created when U.S. under-20 defender Matt Miazga, who came on as a late sub for injured Ronald Zubar, misplayed a long ball that bounced right to Dwyer.
A few minutes earlier, Dwyer had failed to put away a driven ball to the back post. The Red Bulls had responded well to going down a goal but not so well to going up a man.
“But we went down 1-0, I thought our reaction was great,” said McCarty, who along with Felipe Martins anchored the Red Bulls in a 4-2-3-1 formation. “Obviously, Lloyd Sam scored a fantastic goal and the disappointment comes with not doing more when we were a man up.
“I thought the game was there for the taking for us. We weren't good enough. We weren't sharp enough and when we went a man up, we almost got too content. We thought it was going to be a walk in the park, but in reality it galvanized them and they started taking it to us a little more. I think the overall feeling is disappointment.”
Playing his first MLS game in five years was Sacha Kljestan, who left Chivas USA in 2010 to play for Belgian club Anderlecht. He centered the three-man attacking line and saw enough of the ball to take four of the Red Bulls’ 14 shots, and agreed with McCarty that a little more poise might have secured a victory.
“I think our confidence in the final third and the final pass let us down tonight,” said Kljestan. “I think us attacking guys come away disappointed because we could have done better. We should have had a little more patience, especially when we were up a man.”
Besler’s foul was one of several hard hits SKC dished out to Wright-Phillips, the 27-goal man of 2014 who didn’t manage a shot attempt Sunday. Marsch says refinement of the midfield play and its cohesion with Wright-Phillips is a much different mix with Martins, formerly of the Impact, and Kljestan taking over in midfield for Peguy Luyindula, reported by several outlets to be on the verge of retiring.
As to Luyindula, 35, Marsch would only say, “There is nothing to announce other than to say Peguy is taking some time to think about what his future is going to be. That is the only thing to talk about, in respect, to Peguy to give him some time.”
Marsch started Sam and Mike Grella in the wide roles flanking Kljestan. Midway through the second half he brought on Sal Zizzo for Grella. Marsch also has another flank element in Dane Richards, who signed a contract Saturday after earning a job in preseason. Richards started his pro career with New York in 2007 and left MLS for Europe in 2012, prior to Wright-Phillips’ arrival in the U.S.
“Now, do we need to be sharp in the final third?” said Marsch. “Do we need to have clear ideas and clear roles of how to look for Bradley and how to find him at certain moments? Yes, we do, and I think Bradley could be a little more tuned in on the night, too.
“So in general we can be better in the attacking third, but I feel very confident that that’s going to move itself along and it’s more about dictating the way we want the game to be played. Right now, again, I’m pleased with that. But there’s a lot more work to be done.”