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Red Bulls Rewind: Rapids expose Red Bulls defense


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Five goals allowed in one game.

Not three. Not four.


The New York Red Bulls defense hadn’t given up more than one goal in a game at home since the May 25th loss to Chicago (5-1). The Red Bulls had played seven home games since that debacle. You know how many combined goals they had given up in those seven home games?


Yes, Saturday night’s loss and defensive meltdown was the kind of event few could have imagined, which is why Red Bulls head coach Juan Carlos Osorio (and the die-hard fans who braved the elements to watch the disaster) walked away from Giants Stadium on Saturday night disgusted and at a loss for what went wrong.

So what happened? Here are a few things to consider:

Gabriel Cichero played what might have been the worst half of soccer any defender in Red Bulls history has ever had. Osorio employed a 3-5-2 formation with a central midfield of seth Stammler, Juan Pietravallo and Carlos Mendes hoping to stifle Colorado’s midfield and limit the chances the Rapids’ forwards would see. The game-plan relied heavily on the back-three to hold up against the Rapids’ forwards, with Cichero having the biggest responsibility because he was the centerback in the formation.

Rather than be a rock, Cichero was a wreck. It had nothing to do with playing a three-man defense rather than a four because Cichero has played well in a three before.

Cichero wasn’t alone in breaking down on the five Colorado goals. Here is a look back at all five goals:

First goal– a lofted ball in catches Cichero in no-man’s land and finds Casey. Conway comes off his line extremely late to close down Casey and doesn’t get the ball, allowing the deflected ball to find Omar Cummings, who finishes into an open net easily.

Second goal– A long Burpo goal-kick is won by Casey (who beats Cichero to it) and falls to Cummings, who delivers a perfect pass to Casey on the run. Casey’s run leaves Cichero beaten and he shakes off a late challenge from Mendes before beating Conway.

Third goal– Ballouchy swings in a corner kick and Cichero, with no pressure on him, chooses to flick head it behind himself rather than clearing it away. The ball falls to Mike Petke, who beats Conway from close range.

Fourth goal– Cummings outruns Jimenez on the right flank before whipping a cross in to a wide-open Casey (neither Cichero or Jeff Parke were near Casey), who heads it back to an on-running Nick LaBrocca. Juan Pietravallo races in from behind and clips LaBrocca in the area for a penalty. Casey converts the PK.

Fifth goal– Ballouchy races down the left flank, facing little pressure from Mike Magee, and delivers a perfect left-footed cross in to Casey, who beat Parke (who fell asleep long enough for Casey to get into position) and finished from 10 yards out for the hat-trick and victory.

So how much blame should Osorio shoulder for the loss? While he did tinker with the lineup, the changes he made were not directly related to the defensive collapse. He pushed Stammler forward, kept Rojas on the left and inserted Mendes in a defensive midfield role. Considering the offense produced four goals it is tough to argue with the Rojas and Stammler moves, while Mendes was not directly involved in any of the goals (he came in late on Colorado’s second goal but that was blown assignment was all Cichero).

You can certainly make the argument that Osorio is to be blamed for using a 3-5-2 rather than a 4-4-2, but that is a bit of 20/20 hindsight at work because I don’t think anybody would have predicted the type of meltdown Cichero had on Saturday. I’m pretty sure Osorio wouldn’t have used a three-man defense if he didn’t think Cichero could handle the job, and there had been no evidence before Saturday’s game to suggest that Cichero couldn’t.

What will Osorio do next? Cichero was signed to be the team’s go-to centerback and if he’s off form then Osorio will have no choice but to turn to Jeff Parke and Diego Jimenez in central defense, with Kevin Goldthwaite returning from suspension to play left back (Andrew Boyens is out for the Toronto match due to a yellow card suspension).

The club will catch a bit of a break by facing lowly Toronto FC next week, but that game is also essentially a must-win game because the three remaining games after that will be extremely tough.

Not everything was negative on Saturday. The offense looked good, and newcomers Mac Kandji and Matthew Mbuta looked really good. I will write a seperate post on the offense and the new guys later.

For now, feel free to share your thoughts on the defensive meltdown, and what’s next for the Red Bulls, in the comments section below.


  1. Rich, the Red Bulls didn’t play a three-man defense at the end of the game. They played a four-man defense the entire second half. This was the lineup after Mendes left:






    Stammler moved to right back to end the game and held his own there. The breakdowns on the game-losing goal were Mike Magee not pressuring the Ballouchy cross (A hell of a cross by the way) and Jeff Parke letting Casey get position on him (hell of a finish by Casey too).

    And in the end Osorio went offense for defense because he needed an equalizer. Replacing an attacker for an attacker doesn’t necessarily give you the boost you might need.

  2. Agreement with some of the early posts saying that Rojas is better in the middle. Yet JCO keeps pushing him left. I wonder why? I still like him as the head coach of this team, and still believe the Bulls going deep in the playoffs. Call me die hard, but this team can generate some beautiful offense sometimes, only to turn around and fall asleep in the middle of the game, so frustrating! But I still believe.

    Btw, smeone said it earlier…give Casey and Cummings alot of credit. They were relentless for the Rapids.

  3. My only question is what was Oso thinking when he put in Mbuta and removed a defensive position player (Mendes)????

    What was he thinking? Everyone saw that the 3 man backline got their collective assses kicked! As soon as he put in a 4th man in the back, the bleeding stopped. What did the class learn??

    Then he goes back to the 3 man line, and we lose in the final minute. Putting Mbuta in was great, but replace another offfensive player! Take out Magee, or Stammler, or even Rojas, but starting the game with a 3 man back line, only to return to it, was a terrible terrible move.

    Meanwhile, them ULS boys sure made a pretty goal. I hope Oso puts them in early and often for the rest of the season.

  4. joaniq

    Dvb passing? Let’s not get crazy here. Hes not exactly feeding passes to Angel this year, or last for that matter. His shot? I’d like to see more of it ,if he had the stamina to do so. And at 275$ a year? Waaay over priced for flat foot if you ask me.

  5. New headline: Rapids Expose Rojas.

    He’s outstanding in the middle, and the only reason we scored most of our goals lately, but DAMN, he is the “no defendingest” player I’ve seen in a while. Stammler and Rojas’ positions MUST be swapped until DvdB gets back.

    Can Mbutu play on the left?

  6. 1. I think JCO’s decision to play a 3-man backline was more a function of trying to get people forward to exploit the lack of speed on the Colorado backline and also compensate for numbers in midfield. You know that Colorado has a great wide game and part of the reason they’ve benched Christian Gomez is in order to get more work/ball-winning in midfield. I think JCO didn’t play a 3-man backline because he was convinced that Cichero was a great center back but more because he felt he had to dominate midfield and get numbers forward (thus the 3-man backline).

    2. I think part of the reason for the hating on JCO and the team at this point is: because the personnel wasn’t added until August, the product on the field was deplorable the first 2/3rds of the season. So while the team is far more talented now and has had a good run of play….

    3. RB has to be sweating the playoff situation. Okay, it looks like DC is done–stick a fork in them, that team has emploded in a big way. But Colorado, RSL are 1 point behind RB, FCD is 2 points behind and KC is 3 points behind. RB will lose players to Venezvuelan NT callups. Our last 4 matches are: TFC, at RSL, Crew, at Chicago. It would not be unexpected to see RB go 1-3 given our road record. Now, Chicago is weak at home, the Crew may be coasting at that point. But it’s just as arguable that the Crew (given their last playoff fiasco) will be trying to drive hard into the playoffs rather than coast, that Chicago will be fighting to make sure they aren’t the 4th seed and RSL is tough at home plus you’ve got altitude. Meanwhile…Colorado plays Houston, LAG, Chivas and RSL. Figure the LAG game is a win, Houston is a loss, the other 2 are tossups. If they go 3-1 or 2-2 while we go 1-3 or 1-2-1 than they’re ahead of us on points. And RSL plays NE, us, FCD and Colorado. The only match I see as a definite loss for them is at NE, the others are either at home or at Colorado (where the altitude is something they’re used to). KC is really the only team I think is behind the 8-ball schedule-wise: Chicago, 2 matches against NE and SJ.

    I mention the two west teams because if both of those sides (1 point behind RB) pass us, then we’re not in the playoffs. So…RB has to get its collective act together while missing the NT callups and go at least 2-2 if not 3-1 to have a strong shot at the playoffs.

  7. RBNJ, you probably shouldnt have picked up that DVD “how to play soccer, the Galaxy way”…

    it was a poor game, and couldnt have worked out better for the fire :D… no worries guys, with DC getting torn apart between CL and MLS, your only concern is beating out 4th and 5th place on the west O.o

    however, depending on your final standing, it looks like you may have to face CLB or HOU your first round of the Playoffs…

  8. Conway has played well all season, but the last tow games he’s been off his game. Hopefully he pulls it together as we need him if the defense isn’t to pick up the slack.

    RB is also fortunate that the ineptitude of DC is even worse on defense, so that should help during the playoff run.

  9. You’re just asking for trouble playing a 3-5-2 in MLS. Only a few teams have the right type of defenders and midfielders to pull it off. My general impression is that it’s like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.

  10. While Cichero did have a bad game, he has played well so far, I wouldn’t be too hard on him; he’ll be missing the game against RSL and I’ll bet New York will wish that he was with the team.

    The fact is that most of the team had poor defensive performances Saturday night.

    Conway poorly timed challenge was the primary reason for the first goal. Also, no one picked up Cummings who scored the first goal and that wasn’t Cichero’s man anyway. Cummings and Casey combined very well on the second goal as well.

    The marking on the corner kick goal by everyone was severely lacking. Jimenez and Petravallo were equally to blame on the fourth goal. On the fifth goal, Cichero wasn’t even in the lineup. In addition to Magee and Parke, Stammler and Boyens did not apply pressure.

    Casey will get player of the week honors. Cummings and Ballouchy punished the Red Bulls as well and more effort should have been spent marking all three players.

    Against Toronto FC




    Richards (if healthy)……………Mbuta



    Against RSL




    Mbuta……….van Den Bergh (if healthy)


    The Red Bulls need three points against Toronto FC because they then go on the road to the RSL stadium opening w/o Cichero, Rojas and Richards, face league best Columbus Crew and then away to Chicago who has gotten the better of them this year.

  11. Uh, Britton, 2-0-9? And VDB is one dimensional? Which dimension are you referring to? The passing, the crossing, or the shot from range?

    Offense obviously was not the problem last night, and defense shouldn’t have been either, not with a very defensive midfield. But hey, if we’re going to start Mendes, why not assign him to CB instead of midfield? His task is the same either way but in defense he’s in better position to do it.

  12. Good stuff Eugene.. I agree no need to push the panic button yet. The Bulls still are in the driver’s seat and hopefully Macoumba and Mbuta will gel quickly. It was definitely an off week for the D…we have seen it before and it usually happens when VDB is not playing. Get well soon VDB!

    Vs TFC we will see:





  13. OR give Colorado some credit. Casey played a hell of a game and Cummings used speed and constant pressure to make chances. Sure, the Red Bulls are awful but the Rapids played well and capitalized.

  14. Problem is when you don’t have a MIDFIELD, what are you left with? RB is basically playing a 2-0-9 ! The only midfielder we have that is remotely capable of any offensive creativity is Sinisa, and he is buried on the bench ! And don’t even start your for DVB and Dane, they are so disgustingly one dimensional it’s ridiculous.

  15. JCO is a walking encylopedia of futbol, hes still *il profesore* … did you mean pasta? … Being Italian I can tell you thats a myth! Try mud next time.

  16. Wow, I really can’t understand all the Red Bulls and Osorio hate over one game. Are there a lot of people here that are just looking for opportunities to spit venom at this club, this coach and this organization? Because it seems hardly warranted on the basis of one game that ended 5-4.

    Clearly the team needs to do some work but they are still in a play-off spot, still in control of their destiny and still a quality side for this league. I don’t think everything is broken and poor just because of one result. Would people say the same about DC, or LA, or Toronto who are all outside of the play-offs looking in?

    Given the composition and characteristics of the squad, I would happily have Osorio back for next year.

  17. Osorio has been misnomered as “the professor.” He should be called, instead, the “desperate plaintiff’s attorney.”

    That is, his method being: throw the whole bowl of pata against the wall, and see what sticks.

    Red Bull is getting what they deserve.

  18. I know NY fans have been through years of disappointments, Lord knows I feel it acutely myself, but I don’t think that’s a reason to panic over one poor result. The team still looks good overall, much better than it has in prior years and earlier this season.

    I also think people shouldn’t immediately discount Colorado. They have been on a tear recently — having not lost in now 4 straight including a 2-0 victory over Chicago and a 1-1 tie with NE. People talk about San Jose’s revival but SJ is still bottom of the Western conf table while Colorado has shot up to being tied for 3rd after having hit bottom (and lost form) earlier this season.

    Perhaps we all, team included, underestimated the changes that have been taking place in Colorado and their recent run of good form.

  19. While I’m unhappy about the meltdown and unhappy it happened in one of two home games that NY was most likely to take advantage of (the other one being vs. TFC while the Columbus game will be tougher and the other 2 regular season games are against RSL and Chicago on the road), if DC doesn’t beat FCD today, NY won’t really be punished in the standings.

    So this debacle may prove to be a positive wake-up call for the entire team and the defenders to be on their A games, home and away, for the rest of the season. Many other good teams in MLS have had these poor performances that serve to shake the team and coach up and refocus efforts. NE, for example, had a 4-0 loss in mid-August and two straight 4-0 losses earlier this month before regaining their form. Chicago just 7 days ago had a 4-1 drubbing at home and came back to win their next game 3-1. All in all, we lost this game by one goal and most of the defensive problems occurred in just one 45 minute period. So Cichero and the defense had an awful night, but I don’t think there is a need to panic and change everything about the formation and the starting 11.

    Instead, I think they’ll refocus and we’ll see a better result next weekend. That said, Rojas doesn’t defend well and it’s been plainly visible for the last two games. The guy just needs to play centrally. Richards also needs to step up his defensive efforts, but his goal and offensive work looked good. Conway needs to be put through some serious drilling to fix his judgement in certain scenarios and make sure the guy doesn’t feel like his starting spot is assured.

  20. Jeff Parke and Carlso Mendez, and Seth Stammler have been the problem for two years, I think you can give Pietra, Cicehro, and Jimenez a couple more chances.

  21. continued…

    It is fair to say that Dave VDB’s absence has put an enormous hole in the left because no other mid tracks back as he does. Rojas is not a defender, and he should not be on the left in a 3-5-2 alignment.

    I commented in another post that Richards has become one dimensional, trying to outrun his defender(s) every time. And his tracking back has also suffered. I can see Mac bringing some help to Angel up front on the right, but I don’t know how you play with two speedsters on the same side (Mac and Richards).

    Also, I hope Osorio allows Mbuta to play on the left even though he is right footed.


  22. I think Casey should get some credit as well. Looking at those highlights, the two goals from open play were substantially above average for an MLS forward. Especially as to the first goal, I am not sure the likes of Ching for instance would have been able to finish so unerringly under the circumstances.

  23. I’m actually not surprised by the meltdown. The defense looked suspect against RSL and easily could have given up two more goals if RSL could have finished. Why did you have to meltdown against Colorado??

  24. Ives,

    There has been plenty of wrongs going on the RB and I believe it finally exploded on Saturday’s game. As much as I like the new additions, it seems teams have figured out how to confront the RB. For one, in the games against Columbus and Colorado, the midfield line has had a lot of problem with fast midfielders. And in both games, Cichero has been beaten by a pivot forward and get caught out of position.

    Pietra has not been as effective in the middle and he does not have the speed to track back and clean up after the defenders’ breakdowns. It seems opposite teams are countering his tenacity by touching the ball quickly therefore he is getting caught in no man’s land.


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