May has not been a kind month to the New York Red Bulls. They have played three games and have lost all of them, but this latest 3-1 defeat to the LA Galaxy at home was especially devastating.
Head coach Jesse Marsch referred to the loss as “the worst performance” at Red Bull Arena since he was hired by New York in 2015. It’s hard to argue against that sentiment. The Galaxy were struggling mightily entering Sunday’s game, failing to win any of their previous four games. Giovani dos Santos had scored just twice all year, the midfield looked discombobulated and the defense was inconsistent. Defender Jelle Van Damme and head coach Curt Onalfo were not exactly seeing eye-to-eye, either.
Despite those issues, the Red Bulls were blown apart in the first half. They were down 2-0 after nine minutes, Sacha Kljestan was not getting enough touches in dangerous areas and the play out wide was lackluster.
A late consolation goal from Daniel Royer salvaged some pride for the hosts, but it was a mere footnote in an otherwise disappointing showing. Marsch gathered his players at the end of the match, which he claims was done to wake up his team.
“I challenged them,” said Marsch in the post-game press conference. “I challenged them to stick together and to be more like us. You know, at halftime, I told them that I didn’t recognize what that was. You know, I didn’t recognize — we didn’t look like us. That’s plain and simple.
“I have to take responsibility for this, because to have a team that’s not ready to play from the start, and to play a first half like that where we show no life and no commitment and no belief, you know, I have to look carefully at what I’m doing. And, you know, there’s not enough guys that are playing up to their potential and their capabilities, and so again, that has to fall on my shoulders.”
The Red Bulls were missing the likes of Aurelien Collin and Tyler Adams, but Marsch stated that their game was affected due to the team looking “afraid”. Even the players were astonished at their performance.
“They showed us what an inspired team looks like,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles. “They needed the result just as bad as we did. At the end of the day, I almost feel a little embarrassed just by my own performance, by our team’s performance, our entire disposition towards that first half. I apologize to anyone who had to pay to watch that. I apologize for to our season ticket holders, that’s just not the type of performance that we should ever put on display when we’re at Red Bull Arena.”
“It’s going to take some looking in the mirror at myself to do what I can do to rally the guys,” proclaimed Kljestan. “We have to bounce back, we have a big game Friday against [Toronto FC] so it’s going to be very difficult. No matter how good we play on Friday, it’s going to be a long 90 minutes and a very tough game, but the good news is we’re back at home, and we always seem to bounce back when we’re at home.”
The Red Bulls were handed a boost as TFC will be without Sebastian Giovinco and Nick Hagglund due to injury. However, even without their star Designated Player, they will pose a serious threat to a Red Bulls defense that has conceded 18 goals, tied for the most in the Eastern Conference.
A thrilling 3-3 draw between the two sides on Sept. 18 showed the best and worst from the Red Bulls on that day. The high press and speed was utilized to full effect, but fatigue seemingly caught up to the visitors in the second half and they surrendered a two-goal lead.
Speed has been lacking at times this season for the Red Bulls. When the pace of play increased in the final third, the Red Bulls generated some quality opportunities. A prime example of that quicker tempo came in the 38th minute when Kljestan found a pocket of space, found Alex Muyl, who then picked out a cross for a sliding Bradley Wright-Phillips at the back post. The Englishman narrowly missed the ball and the chance went astray.
TFC played with a back four in that draw last season, but Sporting KC and the Columbus Crew have had success on the counter against the three-man defence. Rediscovering that philosophy could reignite the Red Bulls as the summer approaches.
“We’ve already gathered enough points to, you know, feel like the season is all there for us,” said Marsch. “But what’s the bigger challenge is, this isn’t about points and standings right now. It’s about identity. It’s about making sure that the belief system of who we are, what we are, what we do, you know, that’s — that’s where we’re at right now.”
The loss to the Galaxy should serve as a wake-up call for the Red Bulls. They are still fifth in the East, but another defeat at home and a fourth consecutive defeat would really sour the mood at Red Bull Arena on Friday night.