Photo courtesy of Chicago Fire
The New York Red Bulls returned to MLS action Sunday afternoon for the first time since May 23 and perhaps showed a little rust in a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois.
It marked the Red Bulls’ first loss since a 4-1 loss to D.C. United in Washington April 22, snapping a six-game unbeaten string (5-0-1). The Red Bulls now own an 8-4-2 overall record and now stand in third place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings, trailing D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City. The Red Bulls trail front-running D.C. United by four points, but United has three games in hand.
To a man, the Red Bulls were looking forward to getting back on the pitch together, even if they did play without injured stars Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez.
“We were all eager to get back out there again,” said Red Bulls forward Kenny Cooper. “It was our first game in a while and we needed to get a good result.”
“It was really good for us to get the break, to stop and look at what we did good,” said defender Markus Holgersson.
Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe knew how difficult it was for his team to win at Toyota Park.
“I don’t think we’ve won in Chicago in a long time,” said Backe, whose team fell to 11-21-9 all-time against the Fire. “They have a lot of pace and good attacking guys.”
The Fire (6-5-3) utilized that attack early on, spearheaded by former Red Bull forward Dominic Oduro, who was clearly the most energetic player on the field.
The Fire got the early lead in the fourth minute, when Patrick Nyarko knocked in a header, leaping over the defensive backline, touching the pass from Sebastian Grazzini for the 1-0 lead. It was the first goal that the Fire scored in an astounding 640 minutes of action.
The match remained 1-0 into the first half intermission. The Red Bulls had a great chance to get the equalizer in the 40th minute, when Jan Gunnar Solli’s right-footed bouncing shot was stopped by Fire net minder Sean Johnson, the best of his three saves in the match.
In the second half, the Red Bulls listened to the plea of Backe, who said at halftime that his team “needed to have more of an attack…they’re playing too lazy.” Backe had to notice that there was a tremendous amount of space that the Red Bulls were relinquishing in the first half, laying back instead of making the aggressive play.
In the 55th minute, the Red Bulls got the equalizer off a corner kick. Mehdi Ballouchy took the corner and it went right to the head of Dax McCarty, who got around the Fire backline. McCarty’s header seemed to be deflected into the goal by Holgersson, but the goal was officially given to McCarty. Regardless of who scored the goal, the Red Bulls tied the game at 1-1.
It was then that the match got a little crazy. In the 63rd minute, Oduro received a perfect pass and seemed to touch it past a diving Ryan Meara in goal. As the ball trickled toward the goal line, Red Bull defender Wilman Conde made a diving, sliding play to kick the ball aside. Replays clearly showed that the ball had already crossed the goal line by the time Conde got to it, but referee Baldomero Toledo ruled that it was not a goal. To add insult to injury, Oduro vehemently argued the call and Toledo issued him a yellow card.
The no-goal call seemed to invigorate the Fire, who then got a legitimate goal five minutes later. Gonzalo Segures followed up an initial shot, with an assist from Oduro, in the 68th minute, giving the Fire the lead for good at 2-1.
Chris Rolfe then closed out the scoring with a goal in the 81st minute, with an assist to Nyarko.
The Red Bulls held possession of the ball for more than 60 percent of the game, yet only managed one goal. While the players enjoyed their three weeks off, it’s clear that the time off was not beneficial to a team that had been playing exceptionally well throughout the month of May.
The Red Bulls now travel to face the Vancouver Whitecaps Wednesday night, with game time at 11 p.m. Eastern time, then return home next Sunday to face front-running D.C. United in what looks like a huge midseason clash at Red Bull Arena at 7 p.m.