Goalkeeper Tim Howard stopped every Red Bulls attempt sent his way, but he could not stop a shot from one of his teammates for an own goal. Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
HARRISON, N.J. — With only three goals in as many matches this season entering their home opener against the Colorado Rapids, the Red Bulls know that beggars couldn’t be choosers.
So for the second week in a row, the deciding goal of a Red Bulls’ win turned out to be an own goal.
Last Sunday in Atlanta, Anton Walkes knocked the ball into his net in the 82nd minute to break a 1-1 deadlock and lift New York to a 2-1 victory over the expansion Atlanta United in the season opener for both teams.
At ice-cold Red Bull Arena Saturday — the temperatures were in the 20s, the wind-chill factor closer to zero — Eric Miller did the honors in the waning minutes of the opening half in what turned into a 1-0 win for the home side and a perfect 2-0 start.
Now, that’s a long way from last year’s nightmare season-opening 1-6 record.
And this year’s Red Bulls don’t care how they accrue the points.
“Two games, two wins. Own goal, hand ball. In the goal,” left back Kemar Lawrence. “Any way it comes, we just want it to continue as long as possible.”
Added striker Bradley Wright-Phillips: “It’s always going to give us confidence to go into the third game with two wins. Last year it was one of those things. I can’t explain it now. Even if you look at this year, it’s just luck of the green. We’ve got two own goals that has been the winners for us. It’s just a little luck. The way we play, we make our own luck. I don’t think last year we…. Thank you for the other teams, two own goals. Sign them up.”
Goalkeeper Luis Robles, who broke Chris Klein’s record for consecutive starts with his 142nd appearance Saturday, registered his first shutout of the MLS season. Robles’ lone save came in the 72nd minute as he denied Dominique Badji’s effort.
On the other side of the pitch, former MetroStars keeper Tim Howard kept his Rapids teammates in the game with seven saves, some of them spectacular. Howard made his first start in a competitive match since suffering a leg injury in the U.S.’s 2-1 home loss to Mexico in World Cup qualifying Nov. 11.
If there was any rust, Howard did not show any.
Colorado head coach Pablo Mastroeni said he decided to start Howard because “it was mostly about how he felt and making sure that he was completely recovered from the injury, and not having to think about whether or not he could kick the ball because he wasn’t there yet.”
“I think that was the moment,” he added. He felt great this week. I think he’s ready to rock.”
Howard said he “felt good. I’ve been training for awhile. I make sure that I check all the boxes in training to get to this point. There was no hesitation on my part.”
Playing against the organization for whom he last starred for in 2003, Howard did just about everything but stand on his head to keep a clean sheet in the opening 45 minutes.
“Not great for a game, three points dropped by us,” Howard said. “Obviously, I think we had an opportunity to at least pull one back and get out of here with a point.”
He denied Wright-Phillips twice, first with a spectacular kick save with the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner in point-blank range on the left side of the penalty area in the second minute.
“I prefer not to let Bradley-Wright in that type of scenario,” Howard said. “It was a good welcome back moment. I’m glad I made the save.”
Howard was called again to stop BWP in the 23rd minute from close range from 12 yards.
“I think on any other day against another keeper I score at least two,” Wright-Phillips said. “I think he was quality today, kept them in the game until the last minute. That’s what you pay for. when you get someone like Tim Howard.”
In-between those stops, the 38-year-old goalkeeper from North Brunswick, N.J. denied center back Aaron Long’s header in the seventh minute and Daniel Royer’s attempt by diving to his left in the 13th minute.
Finally, the Red Bulls found a way to solve the veteran keeper, thanks to an own goal by Miller in the 45th minute. Felipe started the scoring sequence with a pass to right back Sal Zizzo, who sent a ball toward Royer in the center of the box. Royer never got to the ball, but it went off Miller and past Howard into the goal for a one-goal advantage.
The Red Bulls were far from sharp, but they certainly did enough to win, holding off any serious Colorado threat in the second half to secure another three points.
“It was a gutsy performance by us,” Robles said. “In the last two games we were able to see things out and that was something that we really struggled with last year. So, we know that we’re a work in progress and there’s a lot of work to go. We’re missing some sharpness, but we know once we get the quality part of it, and that’s our foundation, we should be able to get a lot of good results home or away.”
Right now, one result home and another result away thanks to own goals are certainly good enough.