(Alex Muyl of the Red Bulls trying to gain position with the tough field conditions – @NewYorkRedBulls)
The Red Bulls earned a 2-2 draw with DC United in the nation’s capital on Sunday afternoon to extend their MLS unbeaten streak to eight games.
The match started on time, but a lightning delay was called for in the 10th minute. It would be approximately 73 minutes before play resumed.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch used the time in the delay wisely, and he spoke of what he told his team in the locker room, “The main thing I said is that I didn’t think we were up for the competitive challenge. D.C. started the game winning so many of the little battles and I reminded them that this is what the game was going to be, especially on a wet day. I had to remind them that last time we came down here we had a terrible match and that I can cheerlead all I want, but we need them to understand internally how to handle that.”
The field retained a lot of water and slowed play down throughout the rest of the game.
Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan said, “The field got a little bit better as the game went on, but definitely the beginning of the re-start of the game was difficult because you almost had to chip passes to each other because they weren’t going to roll on the ground. I think both teams handled it well. We knew what was at stake and knew what the conditions were like and it was just a battle. So both teams battled pretty hard and in the end a tie is probably better because they were attacking a lot.”
Bradley Wright-Phillips gave the Red Bulls the lead in the 38th minute, using his first touch to redirect a pass from Mike Grella by D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
The goal was Wright-Phillips 15th of the season, making him just the fourth player in MLS history to record 15 goals or more in three consecutive MLS seasons. Chris Wondolowski (2010-2012) and Raul Diaz Arce (1996-1998) also accomplished the feat, while Robbie Keane (2012-15) has scored 15 or more in four straight seasons.
It was Wright-Phillips’ 60th regular season goal with the Red Bulls, adding to his team record that he set a week ago against Montreal.
In the second half, Felipe gave the Red Bulls a 2-0 lead in the 64th minute, finding a pass across the box from Wright-Phillips and firing a low shot that beat Hamid inside the near post.
Wright-Phillips and Kljestan earned assists on the play. It was Kljestan’s 15th assist of the season, setting a new franchise single-season record. Kljestan tied the record last season, and is the franchise all-time leader in assists per-game with 29 assists in 58 regular season appearances.
The lead was short-lived, as DC United’s offense came alive.
In the 70th minute, Marcelo Salvas scored on a penalty kick, and just a few minutes later, Patrick Mullins, formerly of NYCFC, scored on a header to make it 2-2 in the 73rd minute.
The Red Bulls are now 10-7-9, 37 points, third place in the East. They trail NYCFC by four points for the top spot in the conference.
Marsch said of only getting one point from road games, “It’s tough. On one level it’s a real gutsy, hard, competitive, strong performance and if you can walk away with three points you’d feel good about how we played, but the fact that we managed to let them back in has everybody searching for answers. You can either look hard and talk about all the little details and try to figure out exactly how to put your finger on it, but I feel like every game is something different. Tonight, we give them a penalty, it’s a set piece, which we’ve been really good on set pieces all year, it’s a mentality of, ‘here we go again’. My question as the coach is, ‘how do I use my subs? How do I encourage a mentality? How much anxiety do I want to put into it versus how much do I believe that it’s coming and that we’re going to hit a turning point?'”
New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles said of how he balanced his emotions after coughing up a two-goal lead, “It’s nice that the unbeaten streak is still there but the frustration is very real. If you look at the last three games, we are up 2-0 on LA and Philadelphia. It’s just frustrating. It’s a mentality. I’m confident in this group of guys that, with time that’s left with the season, not only will we continue on this but we will get better because at the end of the day, if we want accomplish the goals that we hope to accomplish we have to win on the road.”
Robles said of what the key is to correcting that mentality, “I don’t know. If I knew we would have done it already. It’s just one of those things that just defensively we’re talking, we have to personify this kind of confidence that’s going to permeate through this entire team. And if we can do that I think not only is it going to be a huge help, but it’s a step in the right direction. How to do that, I’m not entirely sure but I have a lot of belief in the guys that are in front of me and a lot of belief in the guys on the bench, that no matter who is there we are going to get the job done and unfortunately we got it half done today.”
Marsch said of giving up leads being a mentality, “It’s almost entirely mental. It’s about the details. What I said to them is that until 2-0 we were winning so many battles and foot races and aerial duels and managing to find Sacha [Kljestan] so he can put a play together in their end. Then they flipped a switch and got more aggressive, and we stopped winning those battles. So how much of it is them and how much of it is us? You have to give them some credit, but it’s a trend that we’ve seen with us and we’ve got to figure out how to address it.”
Kljestan said of having the lead in the second half, “Yeah, it’s another tough result to swallow because–for the most part–we gave them a difficult game. With bad circumstances, we did what we had to do and they played pretty well. It’s just kind of breaking our backs right now to give up these leads. We just need one game where we grind out a road result to give us that relief again that when we take the lead we are able to hold it. Obviously, a penalty makes a big difference in the momentum of the game and we weren’t able to cope with it right after that.”
Kljestan said of balancing the team mood, “Yeah, it’s got to be a balance. We can’t get too down because we know we have gone ten games unbeaten. We’re on a good run. The mood of the team should stay good. On the other hand, we’re extremely disappointed because if we get to the playoffs and we do something like this, we’re going to be out. So we have to figure this out sooner than later.”
Before NYCFC joined MLS last season, DC United was the Red Bulls’ chief rival.
Kljestan said of the DC rivalry losing any luster because of NYCFC, “No, because if you go speak to any one of the guys in our supporters groups and they will still tell you that D.C. is enemy number one. And so we know how much this game means to them, it means a lot to us as well. We want to win the season series so we know that we have another game against them at home and we are going to take that one very seriously because they are doing their best to keep up the standings but we want to keep pushing them down and keep moving ourselves towards the top.”