On a bitter cold evening in Harrison, N.J. 19,375 fans could not feel their hands. But two keepers of their respective nets were able to use theirs as franchise legends of goalkeeper past and present were both in attendance and together put on a show which kept the New York Red Bulls and Colorado Rapids scoreless with the exception of an own goal.
The Red Bulls (2-0, 6 pts), at home in Red Bull Park this time won their second consecutive game with an own goal. Ironically, on both occasions it was not a mistake so much as the Reds getting the break in a crowded scrum. It was the way a goal would be expected with a first half filled with turnovers.
“It is part because it’s not sharp. There was hardly any rhythm to the game but in second half we were able to establish our possession a little more,” Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said.
But the story of this contest was Luis Robles, who broke the record for consecutive starts in the regular season and then went out and showed why making elite saves while Tim Howard, who once roamed these parts as a MetroStar, was just as spectacular for the Rapids matching him all night as this battle resembled their national team clashes.
“It’s not surprising with the two goalkeepers in this match that it turned out to be a 1-nil game. “I know they both took it personally looking across the other side of the field,” Marsch said. “Tim’s a very established guy with the national team but I think Luis is emerging as a guy they can count on. I would not be surprised to see Luis called up to the next camp because I think he has had a really good start to the year and a really good camp. Even though Tim made some great saves, Luis leaves with the win and the shutout.”
The Colorado Rapids came out physical and that would be the tone of the game. But they also were stronger in the air allowing them to dictate play and keep the Red Bulls occupied. But New York made adjustments to win more possessions but it was still a chore.
“Colorado is good at second balls, they are combative. They fight, they battle and see if they can turn that to dispossessing the other team and creating chances for themselves,” Marsch said.
The Red Bulls ran smoothly whenever Sacha Kjlestan was the playmaker and most offensive threats began with him but they could not convert the seven shots they got on target, three of them from Bradley Wright-Phillips.
“As the season goes on we will be sharper and better and not have to count on own goals. Brad will get sharper and the goals will start coming for him,” Marsch said.
Effort was going to have to see them through this game and Daniel Royer was the one who would engage the Rapids physically and eat up ground like a thresher on a farm. He got his coach’s attention.
“He worked his butt off. He covered a lot of ground,” Marsch said, “He closed a lot of things down. He was dangerous in the attack, good on the ball. Thought he was our best player.”
Defensively Marsch had to be pleased as Sal Zizzo and Kemar Lawrence handled the flanks well. But he continues to tinker with lineups inserting Aaron Long and choosing Damien Perrinelle over Aurelien Collin in the defensive center. It was a strength all night in front of Robles.
“Aaron we think will be good and we are rotating guys a little in the back with Damien and Aurelian.” The desire to handle set pieces and limit run of play goals is the area Jesse is targeting defense-wise. “A big part of the emphasis is trying to keep our team more compact and not give away many chances.”
The play of Derrick Etienne was solid but if anything can be determined as the mantra of this season, it’s flexibility. The Red Bulls are a work in progress and they are looking for ways to support Wright-Phillips up front and in other places.
“We have Gonzalo (Veron) who has been here for a while who fits in well into our system and can partner well with Brad. He can also play the midfield spots,” Marsch explained,
“We brought in Frederick (Gulbrandsen) because we feel he can be a good partner for Brad. Sometimes we will use Sacha up there. For us to make changes in the game from personnel and tactics perspective means we can unbalance teams.”