Red Bulls, Hudson River Derby
(Photo by Kaitlin Marold - JSN)

Red Bulls Dismal First Half Ruins Trip to Soldier Field

Heading into Sunday's contest at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago Fire were three spots below the Red Bulls in the MLS Eastern Conference standings. After losing 2-1 to the Fire, the Red Bulls will remain in ninth place, but the teams behind them continue to gain ground.

It has been over two months since the New York Red Bulls captain suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon. In the interim, Head Coach Gerhard Struber has started the capable English defender Tom Edwards as a replacement for Long, but fans would agree the backline has not been as sturdy since Long left. 

In the last month, the Red Bulls defense has actually played well, surrendering six in their last five games, with three coming against New England's super-charged offense that includes the player with the most assists in MLS, Carles Gil. It has been the Red Bulls' offense that has failed to put their opponent's on their heels by scoring goals, consistently.

On Aug 7 in Chicago, the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference, got on the board just two minutes in! six minutes later, striker Luka Stojanovic netted his second of the game for the Fire and the Red Bulls had already gone down by two, just ten minutes into a road match.

The second goal for Chicago must have been deflating to the Red Bulls, because it originated from a long throw-in. In the 8th minute, Chicago threw the ball in from the sideline into the middle of the penalty area, where it was headed towards the back-post. One of the Fire's two strikers, Stojanovic kicked the ball into the net, in mid-air to give his team a 2-0 lead.

Coach Struber made a surprising move by subbing out Christian Casseres Jr. in the 19th minute. Andrew Gutman came on in relief and looked strong throughout the rest of the game. In needless fashion, defender Tom Edwards took down Stojanovic at the sidelines near midfield and Sean Davis received a Yellow right before the referee blew the whistle for halftime.

A Glimmer of Hope

There was a glimmer of hope for the Red Bulls offense, but it would not come until an hour had passed. In the 55th minute, Omir Fernandez came on to replace the young Wikelman Carmona in the midfield. That substitution would almost pay dividends in the 63rd minute, when the Bronx, New York-native, Fernandez fought hard to keep the ball and make an accurate pass to Patryk Klimala.

Klimala then dribbled skillfully through a maze of defenders before cutting to his left and releasing a curling shot that was blocked by Chicago's Carlos Teran

The Red Bulls earned their first quality scoring chance in the second half, but after that Chicago was back on the offensive. Former U.S. Men's National Team defender, Jonathan Bornstein eluded Kyle Duncan and was able to connect on a diving header that goalkeeper Carlos Colonel saved to keep the Red Bulls in the game.

The Red Bulls and Fire played to a stalemate for the final half hour of the game. In the 73rd minute, former New York Red Bulls II striker, Tom Barlow, now in his third season with the first team, took the field for Caden Clark. 

Fast forward all the way to the end of regulation. The assistant referee allowed there to be six added minutes of stoppage time. The Red Bulls took advantage of this and did not quit on the match, despite the fact they were down by two goals. 

In the 96th minute, the Red Bulls earned a free kick about 35 yards out but with good sight of goal in the center. Red Bulls captain Sean Davis laid the ball off to Edwards who cracked the ball as hard as he could. The shot was dropped by goalkeeper Shuttleworth and Tom Barlow tapped it home for his first goal of the 2021 MLS Season.

Edwards: "It's the Players Fault"

The Red Bulls' loss to Chicago Fire was as puzzling as any game this season. The Red Bulls defense has been stout throughout most of this season, giving up more than two goals on just three occassions. All of those occassions, were against the best team in MLS, the New England Revolution. That's not to make excuses for tonight, because tonight was a puzzling loss.

Puzzling because the Red Bulls gave up two goals in the first ten minutes of a game for the first time all season. Because for the second straight game, the offense failed to launch. 

The Red Bulls won the possession battle by a large margin, 68 % to 32 % and even had more shots on goal than Chicago. However, at the end of the day, the Fire won because they played consistently hard for the whole 90 minutes and were able to capitalize on their opportunities. On the goals, the Red Bulls defense looked not out of position, but unable to contain Chicago's Big Serb, Luka Stojanovic, whose accurate strike can be excused but his second goal, unmarked on the back-post, was a failure in coverage by the Red Bulls defense.

It is clear that the Red Bulls backline is not as strong as it would be with Aaron Long marshaling it. Tom Edwards has done a decent job for the last ten or so games as the leader on the backline, but its not his natural position and that showed on the second goal against Stojanovic.

When Tom Edwards was asked what went wrong for Red Bull when conceding those first two goals, Edwards said:

"The only thing I can say about the situation is that we were caught off guard, we weren't ready, we let ourselves fall to sleep and teams like Chicago, they're in a false position in the table and, we know what they can do, and they proved that today against us."- Tom Edwards

Red Bulls Radio's play-by-play voice Matt Harmon and color analyst, Steve Jolley, who played for the Red Bulls in the early 2000s, provided the fans with some perspective on where the Red Bulls are in the standings.

"This team hasn't had a complete game and those first minutes cost us dearly," Jolly said, "I wouldn't say there's any concern based on where we are, still in ninth place...but I have some real genuine concerns over [the ways] players are talking to each other. That's something that you can see on TV and you've got to quash that right away." - Red Bulls Radio's Steve Jolley

This is a trying time in the Red Bulls season, because they are right now on the outside looking in at the playoffs and seem to have hit a snag. To climb out of their difficult position, the team needs to go back to the drawing board and start creating less problems for themselves and more for their opponents as Steve Jolley said during the postgame on Red Bulls Radio.

"We're not pushing the panic button yet, but it is a time for reflection and to look in the mirror and ask, am I doing enough? We're not at the point where it's must-win games but maybe must get points should be the mantra going forward." 

Anthony Paradiso
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