BY DAVE MARTINEZ
All credit to the Portland Timbers; they quite literally pushed New York around the field for the final 45 minutes of Sunday’s 3-3 come-from-behind draw.
However, watching the Red Bulls wither away in the second half sent out a clear message. This team is far from being “regular season” ready.
New York had a late start to an already condensed preseason calendar. The Red Bulls went through the entirety of the MLS Draft without appointing a coach. Once they settled on Mike Petke, they had all of five weeks to establish a playing style, regain their fitness and prepare for an arduous MLS calendar.
The lack of preparation time showed.
Not all was negative in their season opener. The first half of their Portland encounter showed promise for the future. However, it is the second half that spelled out concern for the present.
“I think that’s just a case of a bunch of new players, guys still trying to get to know each other,” Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty noted. “You see little glimpses here and there of what we were trying to do going forward.”
Another reason for the team’s second half malaise? Thierry Henry points to travel woes that saw the team stuck in an airport Friday night for over three hours before packing up and leaving Saturday morning.
“We didn’t prepare it the way – not our fault obviously – the way you should prepare a game but that’s the way the league is and you have to come here and perform,” he noted. “We did, I think for an hour, match Portland and also the way they were playing. In the last 30 minutes, they took over and we ran out of steam and they took control of the game and they scored two.”
Running out of steam was a running theme with the club. Fellow Designated Player Tim Cahill made mention of the same thing when discussing the second half. For as brilliant as the team’s veterans showed over the opening 45 minutes, they seldom if ever made an impact in the second half.
Even New York’s brightest star on this night was not happy with the team’s performance. Fabian Espindola caused headaches early and often for the Portland backline. His efforts earned him a vital brace to start the match. However, when comparing his former team to his current situation, the Argentine striker minced no words.
“RSL have been together for five years,” Espindola noted. “They know how to handle the ball. I think we have to learn first, try to keep it and kill the game.”
When asked how long that may take, he simply quipped, “I hope soon.”
With plenty of blame and excuses to go around, it was Petke who shouldered the bulk of the responsibility for the result while praising his team for their efforts.
“We came out with a mindset (in the second half) that we needed to save the lead instead of keep doing what we were doing in the first half,” Petke said. “That falls on the coaching staff first and foremost. Maybe we should have made it clearer.
“The guys battled,” he continued. “At the end of the day, they battled and there are guys in that locker room that are crushed right now. To see that kind of attitude, that letdown after scoring three goals on the road and getting a point on the road – which in MLS is what you want to do – it is great to see them pissed off.”