Soccer fans always look forward to the home opener of the season. They get twitchy in the off- season; They need soccer to sustain themselves. By the time the home opener arrives, they crave the game.
On Saturday afternoon, New York fans welcomed back soccer as the Red Bulls took on the Colorado Rapids at Red Bull Arena in Harrison. Blue skies and mild temperatures provided an excellent setting for an afternoon of soccer in the Big Apple.
The fans in the South Ward attempted to make the game a fest. They sang and danced throughout the game, but they had been warned that the Red Bulls might not whizz their way past the Rapids. Last week Mike Petke’s team slumped to a 4-1 defeat away to Vancouver.
Petke took the blame for the humiliation. His game plan of pairing Tim Cahill and Peguy Luyindula up front completely backfired. His defense was also not without fault. This time Petke went for the orthodox partnership of Thierry Henry, returning from injury, and Bradley Wright-Philipps.
The Red Bulls applied pressure early on; Cahill failed to convert a free header from Henry’s cross. Lloyd Sam’s pace opened up space on the right, but few crosses turned into real danger. Gradually the Rapids restored the balance. Deshorn Brown unsettled Armando and Jamison Olave at the heart of the Red Bulls’ defence. Robbles, like so often, produced three excellent saves to keep a clean sheet.
New York stormed out of the locker room and again Cahill had a free header. This time, the ball just sailed over the bar. But it was all a bit lacklustre by the Red Bulls – laborious, but without real direction. Armando and Olave didn’t click, and looked fragile. In the final third the Red Bulls were often at a loss.
In the 57th minute, the captain delivered. Lloyd Sam sent in a delicate cross from the right, Cahill drew two defenders and Henry’s diving header left John Berner, the visiting goalkeeper, with no chance.
But clumsy defending cost the Red Bulls. Olave bumped Vicente Sanchez. The referee pointed, somewhat controversially, to the spot and Sanchez cooly converted the spot-kick to the bottom right corner. The Red Bulls were deflated and only regained their composure in the dying minutes. They heaped on the pressure, but there was to be no grandstand finale, common currency last season.
During midweek, Petke indicated that the loss against Vancouver had been analysed – that all the t’s had been crossed and the i’s dotted. Not so by Saturday’s evidence. If Petke wants to send the fans home happy, he’ ll have to go back to the drawing board.