By MIKE NASTRI
Another game, another draw for the New York Red Bulls.
After not winning a game since July 6th, the Red Bulls desperately needed three points to stay in the increasingly crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture. A match against the last place Chicago Fire seemingly was that game, but New York let an opportunity and an early lead slip away once again.
The Red Bulls were actually down in the second half, but a Joel Lindpere goal saved at least a point for the star-studded Red Bulls. Juan Agudelo headed down a long ball to Lindpere. The Estonian played Richards out wide and the Jamiacan sent a low, driving cross to Lindpere who volleyed the ball past Johnson in the 65th minute.
"It's pretty frustrating just to have so many chances and to play such good football and not come out with three points that we've been looking for the past month," said Red Bulls sub Juan Agudelo.
"I personally feel like it's not a good tie," added defender Tim Ream. "You're at home, you should be winning games at home and we're not. It's definitely frustrating."
Chicago took the lead midway through the first half thanks to a Sebastian Grazzini rebound goal. Dominic Oduro's hard shot was saved by MLS pool goal keeper Chris Konopka, but the New York keeper couldn't hold on. Grazzini was wide open to finish in the 25th minute.
Konopka's start tonight was symbolic of this year's Red Bull squad. New designated player Frank Rost is out four to six weeks with a quad tear and Bouna Coundoul got back too late Saturday morning from his International duty. New York's other depth at the position, Greg Sutton, was loaned out to Montreal. The Red Bulls made a habit of trading useful depth players out of the squad this year to fit the big salary stars under the salary cap.This forced New York to rely on a pool player to take the start in net in one of the most important matches of the season.
"It does really help when you have guys that come off the bench and change the game," said MVP candidate Thierry Henry.
Henry continued: "Auvray came on. It was his first game for us. Juan [Agudelo] came on and I think he did well when he came on. And Stephane [Aurvray] also in terms of pressure. Hopefully that can carry on. Some of the teams are dealing with not having Morales or Ferreira and they're dealing with it well. It's true that we have a lot of youngsters in our team, maybe not enough experience in this league. But, hopefully they're gonna get this experience and maybe those are going to be the guys that make us go to the playoffs."
Henry opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a beautiful curling 22 yard shot to beat Sean Johnson far post. Richards had the ball with his back to goal and laid it off to a wide open Henry who finished for his league leading 12th goal of the season.
Chicago answered back just seven minutes later when Patrick Nyarko recieved a ball over the top, burning past New York right back Chris Albright. Nyarko took it to the touchline and played a ball to Dominic Oduro who touched it past Konopka.
"I thought we were not very dangerous," said Fire head coach Frank Klopas. "But we still created two or three chances late in the game to put it away. But, I am very happy with the performance of the group in a very difficult place to get a point on the road here. It's good, now we just have to go back home and get three points."
The tie keeps Chicago in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, but puts them in a tie with Toronto FC, one point shy of the New England Revolution.
Despite the lack of depth, number of draws and consistent mental lapses in the back, Hans Backe remains optimistic that this team is playoff bound.
"Absolutely this is a playoff team," said Backe. "And if we reach the playoffs, I am absolutely sure we will be very dangerous."
New York remains in third place, just a point ahead of DC United and Sporting KC, but both teams have games in hand over the Red Bulls.The Houston Dynamo can push into a tie with the Red Bulls with a win against Portland tomorrow. The draw is New York's 12th tie, the second most in MLS. The Red Bulls only have nine games remaining, including matches against Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy, Philadelphia Union and the red-hot Sporting KC.