Winless Red Bulls shouldn't panic yet

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Supporters' Shield holders have zero points and zero goals, but they aren't far off from a turnaround.

The New York Red Bulls are off to a rather poor start to the season. They began the year at home against Toronto FC, a team that previously was 1-9-1 when playing away against the Red Bulls. They had not beaten them since 2008 at the old Giants Stadium. Despite TFC's improved defense, the Red Bulls were favorites on opening day.

From the start, that’s how it looked. New York dominated possession, finishing with 60 percent and completing far more passes. The game belonged to the Red Bulls, but numerous squandered chances gave way to a Sebastian Giovinco penalty and a late goal on a counterattack. Toronto FC won, 2-0.

The Montreal Impact were 0-4-2 in their last six games against the Red Bulls entering Saturday. Combining that with Toronto’s away record against New York, that means that prior to this season, Red Bulls record in these circumstances was a solid 13-1-2. Add to that the fact that Red Bulls had only ever started 0-2 once in their existence and any betting man would probably lean towards New York taking points back across the border.

But that isn’t how it panned out. Again, Montreal, like their Canadian brethren, did not dominate the game. They did not bully the Red Bulls. While they did have more of a presence on the ball than Toronto did, the Red Bulls met them stride for stride.

However, one defensive lapse gave way to a goal. Another counterattack and then a bit of being switched off in the dying seconds and all of a sudden they were down 3-0.

That all puts the defending Supporters’ Shield winners in a very poor position to start off the year. Zero goals scored, five goals surrendered, and two losses against two teams they have not had much trouble with in the past.

Despite what the numbers suggest, it isn’t time to start up the engine in the panic wagon - yet. There is no need to blow this out of proportion. The Red Bulls look just as good as they did last year, with a few lapses in judgment and numerous bad breaks. Soccer is most certainly a cruel game and New York is feeling the brunt of that statement at a time when it would be incredibly easy to look at the numbers and do exactly what doesn’t need to be done – panic.

That being said, while it isn’t time to panic, it is most certainly time to ask questions. Last year, the Red Bulls were one of the most poised and dominant sides in MLS. They knew their game plan, they stuck to it, and they rarely looked outmatched. They have looked good thus far, save some momentary (and admittedly bad) mistakes. That may seem a bit counterintuitive given the two losses, but numbers do not tell the whole story. In fact, they barely even scratch the surface.

What went wrong?

Eric Bolte-USA Today Sports

Jesse Marsch might be scratching his head right now. (Eric Bolte-USA Today Sports)

The first step in determining what has gone wrong is to look at the goals that have been given up. Despite the grand total of five goals, none have been a result of being outsmarted or outmaneuvered by the opposing team.

Starting with the first goal against Toronto, the penalty to Giovinco, it was just that – a penalty. It could have easily been avoided. Some would say it should have never even been given.

The second goal that followed was a result of the Red Bulls having to bombard men forward and leave the back exposed with only three defenders on the field.

Against Montreal, none of the three goals were particularly agonizing either, at least not in the sense that the Red Bulls were thoroughly beaten. New York’s stalwart against Toronto, Gidion Baah, tried an unsuccessful scoop that gave Montreal and open chance at goal. One mistake and Montreal made the Red Bulls pay.

The second goal was the cruelest of them all. After all the talk about how Bradley Wright-Phillips had not done enough on the shooting front against Toronto, he finally had himself several shots on goal against Montreal - only all of them were straight at goalkeeper Evan Bush. The one that led to the Impact’s second goal hit Bush in the throat before Montreal took it straight back down to the other end and scored 15 seconds later.

The final goal was just a result of the Red Bulls shutting off with 15 seconds left to go and an overly ambitious Anthony Jackson-Hamel, who was hungry for his first MLS goal.

When it comes to the offensive side of the ball, the Red Bulls have been inches away from scoring first and answering back in both matches. Lloyd Sam had a wide-open chance against Toronto but he skied it. Wright-Phillips had another chance in the second half that should have gone in but he was denied.

Against Montreal, Wright-Phillips should very well have equalized on the aforementioned Bush save before Montreal went up 2-0. These are all situations that, on a different day, could have gone the other way and this would be a completely different conversation.

Who is responsible?

All of that being said, the fact remains that the Red Bulls have surrendered five goals and haven’t found net through 180 minutes, making them the only team in MLS yet to score this season. Therefore, the primary guilty party has to be Wright-Phillips. The English striker is always commended for his unselfishness and his pass-first mentality, but that mindset needs to shift to a more selfish one with the Red Bulls in need of goals.

Against Toronto, Wright-Phillips did not manage a single shot. Against Montreal, he did manage two shots on target, but as we can see from StatsZone, both were directly at Evan Bush.

Another guilty party is Lloyd Sam, for much the same reason as Wright-Phillips. Sam has been a non-factor through the first two games. He has yet to hit a shot on target and he has only created one chance, the same number as right back Sal Zizzo.

Along with establishing who the guiltiest parties are, it should also be mentioned who is most certainly not guilty, the first of which is goalkeeper Luis Robles. While giving up five goals is a blight on his career marks, he couldn’t have done a thing with any of them after watching mistakes happen in front of him.

Another seemingly guilty party that should not be given the blame is Baah. The Ghanaian center back was given the unenviable task of filling the void left by Matt Miazga - who recently departed for Chelsea - and, aside from one, massive blemish, he has been superb. Giovinco had very little success against him and while Montreal was not the dream encore, he was far from the villain.

What needs to be done?

It most certainly is not time for the Red Bulls to panic. However, it is time to start asking questions. Luckily for the Red Bulls, there isn’t really a lot that needs to be done to get back on track. The chances are being created, the defense is holding tight and Robles is looking fantastic. Most of the misfortune has come from missed opportunities going the opposite way.

If those missed chances turn into goals, then there would be no misfortune the other way. Without that misfortune, Red Bulls have goals, they don’t have to pressure as much, and games start going the other way. Both games had distinctive points where, had Red Bulls just finished an attacking move, everything would have been different.

Bradley Wright-Philips will score his goals. History has proven that. Sacha Kljestan is already creating three chances a game, more than what he averaged last season. Gideon Baah is filling the shoes that Miazga left, completing five tackles and eleven interceptions in his first two games in MLS. This Red Bulls team will be back in the thick of it in no time and this bizarrely uncharacteristic start will be a distant memory.

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