Top Stories

Short-handed Red Bulls pile on mistakes in loss to rival D.C. United

Holgersson (Getty Images)


WASHINGTON — A turnover here. An errant pass there. A triple-team gone wrong here. A flat-footed defender there.

The New York Red Bulls produced one calamitous error after another in Sunday night's 4-1 loss to D.C. United, one that exposed the club's glaring lack of defensive depth after a rash of injuries and one notable suspension have left the high-spending side short of solutions.

"I would say that we gave away four goals," Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said. "Every goal from D.C., it's one pass, goal – all four of them. It's absolutely phenomenal that they don't need to combine anything."

For a pair of them, there was no pass involved at all, just horrible giveaways. Chris Pontius scored two of his three goals directly off turnovers, first stripping Thierry Henry before lacing a blast from outside the area to open the scoring and then picking off clearance attempt by reserve centerback Tyler Ruthven and coasting by Victor Palsson and a seemingly stationary Markus Holgersson to cap off his hat trick.

"It happened so fast sometimes, but it’s just little things and mental lapses that if we play a team that has good finishers, those goals happen," said rookie left back Connor Lade, who made his first MLS start in the place of the injured Roy Miller. "We are going to have to learn from these things and start putting a more consistent effort together."

Without the suspended Rafa Marquez and the injured Teemu Tainio and Wilman Conde to clog the center of the field, the Red Bulls were gutted by a D.C. attack that had its way throughout the rivalry match. As if the club wasn't thin enough in the back, starting centerback Stephen Keel was taken off at halftime as a precaution after feeling tightness in his back, making way for Ruthven to make his MLS debut.

"We are a little bit short-handed," Backe said. "If you look at it, normally the centerline is usually the most important in a team, and we were missing Conde, Miller, Marquez and Tainio. Anyhow, these are the guys now that need to step up. We’ll see if we can turn this around already for next Saturday."

The Red Bulls' depleted depth was not lost on D.C., which did what any team sensing blood in the water would do: Exploit the weaknesses.  

"I think New York came here with a little bit of a watered-down team, and it showed at times," D.C. coach Ben Olsen said. "Throughout the season, you’re going to have games like this where you’re playing a team that's a little down, and you have to step up and take advantage of that." 

One player D.C. seemed to target repeatedly was Holgersson, a Swedish international brought in to be a stablizing force in central defense. Instead, he has repeatedly come into the spotlight for the wrong reasons, though Backe said his play is more a product of the midfield not providing enough resistance, thus leaving defenders like Holgersson exposed far too often. 

"I would say it's quite OK what he's done," Backe said. "I think it's more that we haven't had the balance on midfield, because they are under pressure all the time, the back four, if the midfield can't do a better defending job."

The midfield as constructed might not be playing up to par, but as for altering his tactics — to play more negatively and pile the bodies in the back to provide cover while removing a striker from up top — Backe said that's not likely to be in the cards. Not with Henry and Kenny Cooper combining for 15 goals in seven games, even though the two barely linked up against United.

"We need to do the best possible the next three, four, five games until the other guys are back, picking up points," Backe said. "We just need to work with our defending game. We could play with a little bit more defending, but then you play only with one striker, and with these guys scoring, it should be a little bit tough to get Kenny, for example, on the bench. 

"On the road, we probably have to look at that if needed. We can't do it at home. We still need to try and control games at home."

If Backe is going to stay the course tactically, then he has to have his strike tandem come up big every game in order to cover up a porous defense that has given up at least two goals in five of its seven matches and has yet to record a clean sheet. That was far from the case Sunday, when Henry's stellar free kick was little more than a consolation and the French icon and Cooper could not get going enough to make up for the club's glaring weakness.

"I said if we carry on defending the way we do defend, we're going to get punished, and we got punished today," Henry said.


  1. Yeah, NYRB was missing some key players. But Holgerson was brought in with the idea of starting. And if you’re on the road, playing in the rain, down a number of players, maybe you play more of a gritty/counter-attack strategy? That’s what KC did to DCU (and they’re a far better team than NYRB).

    Bottom line: NYRB has made some stupid decisions about personnel. I was originally against the hiring of Backe, but bringing in Lindpere and HB’s first season had me publicly saying I was wrong. But since then, the personnel decisions (the fascination with Mehdi Ballouchy?), managing the clubhouse (how do you let Rafa Marquez throw teammates under the bus like he does?), the ineffective results….NYRB is not a well put-together side. They were caught short-handed this game–true. But every club in MLS will have games when there have been call ups or injuries or suspensions. The good clubs prepare for those situations and manage them well. RSL is a brilliant example of this.

  2. I’ve never before seen a coach point to his players so much for its mistakes. We all know your defense sucks. But who built that back line and who coaches it day in and day out in training and games? You (and Soler)! You are the architect of that defense that sucks…take some responsibility for your incompetence, rather than blame the B-league Scandanavian players and untested rookies who actually wouldn’t be on that field under any other coach in the league.

  3. Keeping Rafa is all about $. Red Bull is not about trophies but selling energy drinks. RBNY is a vehicle by which to sell drinks and further its brand. Clearly they could care less about soccer or the club’s history. They call it New York Red Bulls, despite no connection to NY, so they can attach the Red Bull name to the world’s cultural capital. Likewise, Rafa is there to expand and broaden the Red Bull name, by expanding their market to Hispanic-Americans and into Latin America – hence, the report which says they plan on puting his face on 1.5 million cans of Red Bull. Backe sucks, but keeping or sacking Rafa is probably not his choice.

  4. Holgersson and Keel are MLS backup types. You can’t get by with that kind of starting quality in MLS anymore.

    Ny needs to find a partner to pair with Conde. I have a feeling they will push Marquez to the backline once again. If Tainio is healthy, this would make sense.

  5. Exactly…When will DC finally get some credit. This is a solid team. Chicago and San Jose are also flying under the radar.

  6. No, not the same offense as Rafa. NY struggles to move the ball w/o Rafa in the lineup. This is whay that #10 summer transfer is so important.

  7. The Red Bulls basically proved what most of us knew that Backe is “short sighted” and always has been a insipid coach. He simply has NO DEPTH & NO SMARTS

    Any smart coach would have thrown away that garbage Rafa after his heroics last year VS the Galaxy. Using that $ he would have purchased ONE if not TWO strong ( fit) center backs like Conde but without his baggage ( NOT) playing for a whole year was a huge gamble that the RB can obviously ill afford. Throw in a real #10 and the RB had a shot..and oh yeah a new coach?

  8. The SBI article written last night provided simply an impartial summary of the action of the game.

    This article is more of an editorial, and its clear that the author/SBI believes that the game was lost by the Red Bull, not won by DC United. Funny then that SBI consider Pontius to be the MLS player of the week. DCU outplayed and outclassed the Red Bull by a wide margin last night.

    (SBI-Sorry, but your “breakdown” of this article is considerably off the mark. It is NOT an editorial, but rather a sidebar off last night’s game with plenty of quotes supporting everything written in it. Just because you believe last night’s game story is more impartial doesn’t make it so. This story simple focuses on the Red Bulls defensive woes, which doesn’t mean in anyway it served to take away from what D.C. and Pontius did.)

  9. It’s not “last man back;” It’s “denial of goal scoring opportunity,” which seeing how Pontius went on to score it definitely was.

  10. Yeah, as if his turnover in the 7th minute DIDN’T result in a goal that set the pace for the rest of the game. Oh, or that backwards cross that resulted in the 4th goal. He certainly has a chip on his shoulder.

  11. A centerback should be covering for the defensive shortcomings of the midfield, not the other way around. Backe is trying to protect his horrible purchase. The Red Bulls need a centerback upgrade more than anything else.

  12. i have to admit i enjoy watching Henry stroll around the park shaking his head in disgust, like he’s just above it all. the arrogance is well, funny!

  13. this team with the starting lineup of cooper henry richards marquez tainio ballouchy/lindpere miller solli holgersson conde is hard to stop…on the other hand this team with cooper henry richards mccarty palsson ballouchy soli lade keel holgersson is very very bad and please red bull fans stop saying lade is better than miller its a joke if u need an example please watch the highlights from the game

  14. Game was tough to watch. The defense more closely resembled keystone cops than pro soccer players. Maicon Santos beats 3 defenders on the touch line, feeds the ball in which Meara parries away, only right into Conor Lade and drops right to Pontius.

    Holgersson standing still while Pontius runs by him. Should have fouled him and taken the yellow card since he wasn’t the last man back, though perhaps he felt he was.

    Thierry Henry getting into the act giving the ball away twice which lead to a score and a near miss.

    History continues to repeat itself with this team. Going back to Petke, Jolley, Parke and Goldthwaite, we’ve had good MLS centerbacks who are typically dependable, but then have at least 2-3 mental lapses a game which are often costly.

  15. Totally disgusting defense & ball-handling for a professional team (NYRB). Hats off to DC for being aggressive and ready to play.

  16. Total annihilation.

    I know SBI are NYRB fans but I do think this article could be bent a little more towards “DC played really well” instead of it being fully “NYRB made mistakes.” You can probably tell which team I’m a fan of.. 😉 Thanks for the coverage either way!

  17. “We are a little bit short-handed,” Backe said.

    Well, maybe next time your midfield shouldn’t be reliant on a temperamental child who is prone to red cards and multi-game suspensions. Just a thought.


Leave a Comment