HANOVER, N.J. — For the majority of the MLS regular season, the New York Red Bulls have had the best defense — statistically speaking.
Through 27 games, no team conceded fewer goals than the Red Bulls, a big reason why they’re in contention for the Supporters’ Shield.
Now, they’ve done it in each of their last two games.
A 3-0 loss at Montreal to end a grueling stretch of five games in 15 days was followed by a 3-3 draw at D.C. United last Sunday. Suddenly, the most stout defense in the league is leaking goals at an alarming rate.
Cause for concern or just a blip?
“It’s been a bit concerning for the simple fact that we’ve been the best defense all season and to allow six goals in the last two matches, it’s very uncharacteristic,” fullback Michael Amir Murillo said through a translator. “What we’ve been doing is working hard and seeing what the mistakes are so we can correct them, move forward and improve the defense again.”
Against Montreal, the Red Bulls were burned on a pair of set pieces and then, when chasing the game against a team that is organized defensively, were hit on a late counter for the third goal.
The issues against D.C. United, though, were a bit different.
“In this past game against D.C., it was more specific, some collective/individual breakdowns on a few plays and it cost us,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “We know that we pride ourselves on alertness and urgency, recovery runs. We know we let ourselves down and let it slip that game.”
Rather than call them “concerns,” Armas said the lapses defensively against United were “reminders.”
“We can’t let the details slip, the urgency in the defensive third and some of the things that do make us good, which is the alertness and being in on every play,” Armas said.
Despite the recent trend, Armas understandably backed his back six, saying he wouldn’t trade them for any other unit in the league. Among that group are three players called into the U.S. men’s national team for its last camp — center backs Tim Parker and Aaron Long, as well as defensive midfielder Tyler Adams — and fullbacks Kemar Lawrence and Murillo, who regularly feature for Jamaica and Panama, respectively.
For Parker, reviewing the tape of the D.C. draw showed him that defensively the Red Bulls “weren’t on top of everything right away,” which is rare.
“We didn’t squeeze the game as much as we wanted,” Parker said. “It’s all part of playing on that front foot. When we’re playing on our front foot, we’re squeezing the lines, we’re doing everything right and we keep that team’s shape within 30-35 yards, that’s when teams find it very hard to play through. We invite teams to play behind us because me, Aaron and Kemar, Amir are ready to put out those fires and win those footraces.”
Whether it’s a reminder or a wake-up call, the Red Bulls are confident lessons can be gleaned from recent mistakes as they head into the MLS Cup playoffs.
“We need to reflect on the last two games and learn from the mistakes we’re making,” Adams said. “Come playoff time we don’t want to be making those mistakes, but against good attacking teams sometimes they find ways to score and break down good defenses.”