In a season that is slowly turning into a waking nightmare, Sunday’s game might have been the nadir. It is not so much the scoreline, as 2-1 is not a blow out. It is not who they played, as much as you wanted to beat the Red Bulls, it was how they went about playing, particularly being up a man for the majority of the game. The cold, hard reality from the hot evening in New Jersey is that NYCFC are currently adrift and the way back to safety is lost in the fog.
As expected the atmosphere was raucous, and good on the Red Bulls supporters, much maligned over the years, for bringing their A game last night. The NYCFC fans who packed the away section were in full voice to start, but ultimately were quieted by their club’s poor performance and total lack of energy. Another new look lineup for the men in blue gave hope, but ultimately caused confusion as the team looked completely unfamiliar with each other.
The return of Jason Hernandez was welcome by many, as he took his customary spot next to Chris Wingert. Josh Williams came back in at right back, with R.J. Allen getting a surprise start at left back. As we found out later Jeb Brovsky had a slight “nerve issue” and Jason Kreis felt it better to go with the 100% fit player. This proved to be an impactful decision, in multiple ways. The midfield welcomed back Andrew Jacobson, who slotted in with Ned Grabavoy,Mix Diskerud, Pablo Alvarez, David Villa and Khiry Shelton.
As expected the Red Bulls came out and pressed hard. Per their early season play, and the style implemented by Jesse Marsch, they harassed NYCFC in their own half of the field, prevented the midfield from establishing a rhythm and looked to hit with speed. Within four minutes this proved a good strategy as Lloyd Sam attacked at Allen, turning him inside out. With Hernandez shifting over to help, it left Bradley Wright-Phillips all alone four yards out. Once Sam was able to loft his cross into the area it was a pre-ordained goal as even the profligate Wright-Phillips could not miss it. Just like that it was 1-0 Red Bulls and NYCFC looked completely lost.
Sam continued to give Allen nightmares as he ate up the acres of space available to him. The midfield was strong…at turning the ball over and not getting involved in the play. The only players who earned plaudits were Pablo Alvarez, Josh Saunders and Khiry Shelton. It was the speed of Shelton that offered the only outlet for NYCFC in the first half, and his pace directly led to a big moment in the game. A nice one-two at the edge of the penalty area caused Matt Miazga to bring Shelton down from behind. While some argued for a red, it was likely the proper yellow card given to Miazga. As highlighted in the preview, young players can sometimes have issues in emotional games. Considering the early goal, the screaming fans, and the physical play, it was not totally out of line for a mistake to occur. What is surprising is the fact he repeated that mistake in the 36th minute. As Shelton was set free on a rare counter attack, Miazga brought him down from behind, leading to a second yellow card and sending off. Suddenly, without having done much to deserve it, NYCFC got a massive advantage. Yet for the remainder of the half you would have thought NYCFC were a man down. Grabavoy and Jacobson continued to pass it to the other team, Mix Diskerud floated around without ever really getting involved, and David Villa was bottled up. When they did get in attacking areas they were hesitant, taking one or two extra touches and not committing to a shot or pass. The hesitancy in the final third was extremely frustrating, and a big cause of their inability to score goals.
The prospect of halftime offered hope and respite. The truth is many anticipated the Red Bulls to come out aggressive and test our back line. I, for one, anticipated an early goal, but felt NYCFC could catch out a tiring Red Bulls in the second half. Having a man advantage offered renewed hope and when the second half started it felt as if NYCFC could get back into the game. They started off better, holding onto possession and putting pressure on the Red Bulls. Alvarez put in plenty of work to create an opportunity in the 48th minute. The worries of the Red Bulls counter showed in the 50th minute as Allen had to clear one off the goal line after Sam beat Saunders. Soon after the goal came….for the Red Bulls. In the 51st minute a textbook counter attack for the Red Bulls led to Wright-Phillips second goal as Klejstan ran into the miles of space left open by Josh Williams and fed a simple pass as our center backs were split easily. The ensuing 15 minutes saw bad giveaways, even more hesitation in front of goal and a general sense of malaise. This led to the big decision in the 64th minute to put in Kwadwo Poku for Mix Diskerud. As Jason Kreis said after the game “I felt he was not fully involved in the play” and it was hard to see this as anything other than sending a message to an underperforming star.
Immediately NYCFC responded by getting Allen down the sideline and delivering a great cross that was left begging for a touch. Of course this was undone by some awful defending in the 66th minute that saw Wright-Phillips get in all alone, only to be denied by a desperate and livid Josh Saunders. This play was the moment when it seemed the team gave up, as they ran around like a Benny Hill skit. The poor, almost comical, attempt at a offside trap personified the shambles this game had become. Jason Kreis responded by putting on Patrick Mullins for a tired David Villa, then taking off Alvarez for Mehdi Ballouchy. Many will talk about Villa’s look of frustration coming off, but as it was described afterwards, Kreis is worried about his long-term fitness and Villa simply is a competitor. Seemingly there is no issue between the two.
His faith was rewarded as Mullins put a dangerous shot at Luis Robles in the 72nd minute, followed by the goal we had been hoping for. Allen got down the left side again, put in a perfect low cross that Mullins ran onto and buried. After that the game opened up as NYCFC looked for the tying goal, with Poku making a brilliant run only to be let down by his heavy final touch in the 85th minute. In the end they could not find the key to unlock the door and dropped an emotional, ragged game 2-1.
In the aftermath this game brought more questions than answers. All of the positive momentum from their recent performances was wiped away in 90 minutes. The sight of many of the players jogging in place while the Red Bulls ran circles around them suggested apathy, or a total lack of speed. One of the few players to gain any plaudits from Jason Kreis was Patrick Mullins, who he described as “always giving his all.” That phrasing is telling and suggests more minutes for the young American. At this point any change would be appreciated.
– Firing Kreis is a dumb idea, so please do not think it
– Might be time to take Ned Grabavoy out of the firing line, at least for a game or two
– The injuries at full back are the opposite of helpful, and getting multiple games in a row with the same pair will be good
– Jason Hernandez is still our most consistent defender, last night withstanding. I will give him a break for his first game back
– Timid, the best word I can find to describe that performance was timid
– Tommy Mullet must have killed Kreis cat, or is still hurt, because those are the only reasons he does not get action