HANOVER, N.J. — A big reason the New York Red Bulls captured a third Supporters’ Shield title in six years last November was the team’s stout defense. They led the league in fewest goals conceded with 34, the best in MLS since the Colorado Rapids gave up 32 goals in 2016.
Through 18 games, though, the Red Bulls have already conceded 24 goals, including seven combined in their last two league losses. Add in a U.S. Open fourth round extra-time departure against the New England Revolution and the club has leaked 11 goals in the last four games in all competitions.
Is that a worrying trend?
“There’s not one way we’re giving up goals, so it’s not all in one bucket,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas told Pro Soccer USA after training Friday. “There’s some individual things, there’s collective things that usually go into this. So there’s no real concern to say ‘Hey, this is what you have to do better’ because it’s always connected.”
Armas refuses to use it as an excuse, but the Red Bulls didn’t have their first-choice backline in any of those four games. After missing a month with a hamstring injury, Aaron Long has been with the U.S. men’s national team at the Gold Cup.
Fullbacks Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica) and Michael Amir Murillo (Panama) were also with their national teams in the competition and Tim Parker suffered an ankle injury that forced him off the field against the Chicago Fire June 28. He missed the match at Houston, a 4-0 defeat Wednesday night and is in doubt for Sunday’s showdown against Atlanta United.
Against the Dynamo, Armas deployed a three-center back formation with Amro Tarek as the only regular center back, although Connor Lade played there in college.
“We didn’t feel great about the result,” Armas said of the club’s most lopsided defeat since a 4-0 loss to the LA Galaxy on Sept. 28, 2014. “We want to be harder to be scored on than that. In a lot of ways, nothing surprised us in terms of what makes Houston good and how they can hurt us and we let ourselves down a little bit.”
While Armas welcomes Lawrence back into the fold after Jamaica were eliminated, Parker, who worked on the side at training Friday, is questionable for Sunday.
“Initially they thought it’d be a couple of weeks, but he’s out here today moving around well in cleats touching the ball, sprinting, cutting, so we’ll be smart as we always are with this,” Armas said. “Of course there’s some big games and a big stretch coming up, but we’ll do what’s best for Tim and the team and go from there, But it was good to see him out there today.”
Armas was generally pleased with how his team played in the Open Cup loss to the Revs and a dominant first half in a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Union. He said he and his coaching staff will take a close look at the recent defensive woes, but believes generally its more about mentality than anything tactical.
“Usually when we’re good at being us and we stick to who we are, that solves half of the issues out there,” Armas said. “And there’s little moments, like in the Chicago game, we won that battle inside the 18-yard box and then in Houston, we get a few chances, they get a few, some of its well-earned, some of its self-inflicted.
“It does, Inevitably, cause us to take hard looks at those things and say, all right, can we just rectify little things and just get on with it.”