Bradley Wright-Phillips: “We are not firing on all cylinders right now.” (Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
HARRISON, N.J. — Dear Red Bulls fans:
Sorry, if you were hoping that a game with Minnesota United FC was right around the corner to help your favorite team snap out of it scoring doldrums. You will have to wait until July 22 for that to happen.
That expansion team continued its nightmare start to the season with a 5-2 pasting by the New England Revolution Saturday. Minnesota (0-3-1) has given up an astounding 18 goals in four games.
On the bright side, United has found the net six times, which is two more times than the Red Bulls have this season.
The start of the 2017 Major League Soccer season was not exactly the way the Red Bulls had envisioned. The attack of MLS’s second-highest scoring team from last season has been sputtering along.
Four goals in four games and two of which have been game-winning own goals. And that doesn’t count the two CONCACAF Champions League matches in which the Red Bulls scored but once.
Their latest frustrating effort was a scoreless draw to an undermanned Real Salt Lake team before an announced crowd of 16,213 at Red Bull Arena Saturday.
“They came for a point and they got it,” Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips said.
The Red Bulls (2-1-1, 7 points) moved into undisputed possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, but that was little consolation. No one talked about that fact.
“Anytime we don’t get three points at home, we’re disappointed,” head coach Jesse Marsch said, “because we’ve been a very good team here at home for quite some time now. We like to put on a show for our fans. … The guys walked off the field like it was a loss. I had to remind them in the locker room like, come on, man, it’s the beginning of the year. We’ve got things to work on.”
Such as the players finishing their chances.
“We are not firing on all cylinders right now,” said Wright-Phillips, the two-time MLS Golden Boot winner, including the 2016 crown.
The Red Bulls outshot RSL, 18-12, enjoyed 62.9 percent of ball possession, but could put the ball away past goalkeeper Matt VanOekel, who made four saves.
To make matters more frustrating, RSL (0-2-2), which extended their winless streak to 12 games (0-7-5) dating back to last season just endured the earliest head coaching change in league history with Jeff Cassar getting sacked last Monday. Daryl Shore directed the team on an interim basis, handicapped with the fact he was missing three key players. That included goalkeeper Nick Rimando (U.S.) and Albert Rusnak (Slovakia), who were on World Cup duty, and U.S. international defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who was serving a yellow-card suspension.
The Red Bulls played without their playmaker, Sacha Kljestan, who, too, was with the U.S. squad, and forward Derrick Etienne with Haiti for a CONCACAF Gold Cup playoff, and defender Michael Murillo with Panama for WCQ.
Chances are like runners left on base. It’s great that you are creating scoring opportunities, not so great that they are wasted and the team is not rewarded.
“The front four is just not sharp enough at the moment,” Wright-Phillips said. “It’s not for the want of trying. We’re trying to do things, but it’s just like we haven’t gotten into a rhythm. And you guys know when we get into a rhythm we’re like the highest scorers in the league. It’s something that doesn’t worry me. I know it’s going to come. I hope it comes sooner rather than later.”
For the past two seasons, the Red Bulls had thrived on BWP being the lone striker up top. This year Marsch decided to implement a two-forward system. Fredrik Gulbrandsen started his second game alongside Wright-Phillips. While he worked hard and had several chances, he had nothing to show for his efforts.
“To me it makes no difference,” Wright-Phillips said. “I’m up there and my job is to score goals and I work hard at it. When I am playing at either one, that is what I am trying to do. It’s all right. I don’t mind. We have to get better at it, just like we started our normal formation. It took us time. I think that will come soon. It’s only four games in.”
Marsch echoed Wright-Phillips’ sentiments as he tried to look for a silver lining from the match.
“We’re in the beginning stages of the season,” he said. “Not everything’s going to be perfect. We’ll [learn] from our mistakes. But I’m trying to get them to go out on the field and really just go after things and play the way we want to play, knowing that that will make positive things happen and not worry about the negative things.
“Is that clear? Am I clear? Maybe I should — can we play that tape in the locker room?”
One thing is certain, fans might not want to play the videotape from the game.
It was that frustrating.