By MIKE NASTRI
New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said during the week that Sunday's match vs. Chivas USA could be a trap game for the Eastern Conference leaders. And that's exactly what it was.
Justin Braun's hat trick was just enough for Chivas USA to slip by New York, 3-2, at Red Bull Arena on Sunday. Braun's player-of-the-week performance came in his first start of the season for the Goats.
"I hadn't scored until this game this year," said Braun. "I kind have been struggling a little bit. I think it was a coming out game for me. Hopefully, I can build on it and gain some confidence from it–keep moving forward scoring goals and helping this team win."
New York dominated the second half, but an Alejandro Moreno header opened the door for Braun's hat trick. Coundoul punched a header from Moreno off the post and the ball trickled to the goal line. Braun was wide open and tapped it in for the 3-2 win.
"I think it's a statement game for us," said the hat trick hero. "A lot of guys haven't been talking about Chivas or they're telling us we're not good enough. That's what it's like being the underdog. I think we're showing we are one of the top teams in the league. Even tonight, we didn't play our best soccer, but we were committed as a group and we came away with three points in a hostile environment against a very good team."
"I think for a young group that is growing and in the building process, I think a result like this, with this kind of effort, further confirms everything that we're trying to do," added first year Chivas USA coach Robin Fraser."I think as a young team coming up, this win will be extremely important down the road."
The game was delayed 31 minutes due to a power surge that knocked the lights out right before kickoff. Chivas USA was unphased by the delay and came out to a cracking start.
Braun's first goal opened the scoring in the sixth minute after he cut up Jan Gunnar Solli and ripped a beautiful shot in the upper right hand corner of the goal past the diving Bouna Coundoul. New York equalized fifteen minutes later thanks to a Thierry Henry goal. Rafa Marquez played pin point long ball to Henry, who took the pass down with class and finished cooly past Chivas USA keeper Dan Kennedy.
Braun put Chivas up again in 31st minute. Heath Pearce played a free kick from midfeld into the box. Ante Jazic was just able to get a touch on it to keep it from crossing the endline and Braun capitilized with a blast past Coundoul.
"We just gotta clean it up," said Red Bulls defender Tim Ream.
Ream added: "There was a mishap on the backpost [on the second goal]. The guys kinda got complacent and thought the ball was going out. By the time we switched back on, the ball was coming back across. Their third goal, I think, was just a miscommunication. And on top of that, I think a lot of guys thought there was going to be a whistle because the wall was being set up. But again, you can't make excuses and we just have to be sharp and always be tuned in."
Dwyane De Rosario capped the first half scoring in the 35th minute with a confident finish from the penalty spot. The late call came from referee Alex Prus after Heath pearce bumped Luke Rodgers from behind on an Henry cross. Rodgers beat Pearce to the spot of the cross and would've had a golden opportunity at a one time finish. The penalty would conclude the scoring for New York, despite peppering the Chivas goal with nine corners and six shots in the second half.
"We played too pretty and too sloppy," said Red Bulls head man Hans Backe. "Conceding two goals like that on set plays is too sloppy…"
Backe continued: "(We) are disappointed of course that we didn't control the game at home, dictate the game at home. Every team in this league, you need to play up to your potential every game if you're going to win in this league."
Coming into the match, the Red Bulls boasted one of the stingiest defenses in MLS only allowing three goals in eight games. Two defense lapses on set pieces cost New York valuable points at home. Defending on set pieces is now a concern with the two goals allowed against the Goats and Landon Donovan's set piece header last week.
New York will need to address that problem quick with a visit to Houston on Saturday, a team they only mustered a point against at home. It will be key for New York to pick up the full six points out of the next two games before they lose five key players to Gold Cup committments.
On the other side, Chivas USA has now only lost one game since the start of April after starting the year 0-3. The lone loss came against what many regard as the best team in MLS, Real Salt Lake. Chivas USA's stingy defense had only allowed three goals in six games walking into the match against New York. The transformation of the backline is due in part to the stellar play of Heath Pearce and rookie Zarek Valentin. But, according to Braun, the main reason for the team's success is rookie coach, Robin Fraser.
"He's [Robin Fraser] a great soccer mind and you can see it in the way we play," said Braun of his first year coach.
"As you can see he's done wonders for the team. We went from being one of the worst teams in the league last year to now I feel like we haven't played a team we couldn't beat."