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Sunday, August 14, 2011
RBNY Recap: Backe buys Red Bulls' playoff chances after 2-2 draw vs. Fire

By Matthew Artus

The New York Red Bulls settled for their 13th draw this season against the lowly Chicago Fire in a 2-2 result at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. The draw had the benefit of preventing the Red Bulls from claiming the highest number of ties in league play this season as the Fire also claimed their league-leading 14th draw after the final whistle blew.

Thierry Henry and Joel Lindpere bookended Saturday's score sheet with tallies for the Red Bulls. Henry opened scoring in the 9th minute with his league-leading 12th goal of the season by picking up a Dane Richards pass at the arc and sending a low curler inside the right post. Lindpere answered two first-half Fire strikes in the 63rd minute by volleying a Richards cross inside the left post for the equalizer and the Estonian's 6th goal of the season.

Unfortunately, those two Fire goals left New York settling for the equalizer rather than cementing a much-needed win. Patrick Nyarko broke though the Red Bulls back line and directed a low cross to Dominic Oduro, who deflect a shot off NY 'keeper Chris Konopka's left hand in the 16th minute to answer Henry's early goal. Sebastian Grazzini followed just eight minutes later by bouncing a rebound off Konopka's hand inside the net for his first career MLS goal.

Saturday's draw helped the Red Bulls (6-6-13, 31 pts) wrestle sole possession of third place from an idle Sporting Kansas City (7-7-9, 30 pts) and keep pace with a second-place Philadelphia Union (8-5-10, 34 pts) club that also finished with a 2-2 draw. However, the Columbus Crew (10-7-7, 37 pts) boosted their first-place lead in the Eastern Conference with a win over the New England Revolution on Saturday.

Fingers Crossed. The likes of Mark Messier and Joe Namath became deities in New York sports by delivering on their public guarantees. In his postgame comments, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe decided to lay down his own guarantee about his club's chances at postseason success despite leaving without the club's first win in a month.

"As it looked today, definitely yes," said Backe. "Absolutely this is a playoff team. And if we reach the playoffs, I am absolutely sure we will be very dangerous."

Play of the Game: Oduro's Goal. Oduro's goal was fairly simple in its execution, but revealed a greater flaw that ultimately held back the Red Bulls on Saturday.

Oduro's goal does not happen with effective pressure from the Red Bulls back line. Tim Ream and Roy Miller failed to execute an offside trap on the Ghanaian striker, leaving him with nothing but Konopka in his path to the net. When Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa chipped a ball behind the Red Bulls back line, Nyarko only had to receive it and cross it to the wide-open Oduro for the goal. Miller and Ream did the same thing by letting Nyarko break through on the rush preceding the second goal, though Grazzini did the dirty work himself.

"It’s a mentality," said Ream. "In the beginning of the year, we came in with a mentality of no goals, and just staying compact defensively. As the year’s progressed we kind of got away from it a little bit. We’re working on it every day and trying to get back to that."

The mentality of the Red Bulls back line has taken a beating with its failed pressures and broken traps in recent weeks, but the faults may reflect a failure in the big picture. The back line is regressing this year, and that deficiency should fall at the feet of the coach in charge of developing the club's defensive efforts.

Shot Stopper Squabble. With Bouna Coundoul arriving too late on Friday from his international duty with Senegal to comfortably start against the Fire, Backe elected to assign the netminder duties to an MLS Pool player in Konopka. He did so despite having a reserve 'keeper on his roster in Alex Horwath, who was available to play and previously kept a clean sheet in a scoreless draw against the Columbus Crew in March -- just one day after he signed with the club.

"Konopka had been outstanding this week," said Backe. "He has looked very, very sharp. That is why we chose him before Alex Horwath."

Konopka did for the most part on Saturday, except for the two balls that bounced off his hands and found their way into the net moments later. However, Konopka's start may have left Backe's other option hinting at how it feels when one feels the NY coach's cold shoulder.

"Keeping that head held high," tweeted Horwath after the match. Two days earlier, the reserve shot stopper hinted at needing a boost of confidence, tweeting "Really really really need to get away."

Swap Shop. Guadeloupean defensive midfielder Stéphane Auvray made his Red Bulls debut in the 60th minute by replacing Mehdi Ballouchy. But before you go thinking Backe made a strategic substitution by bringing in his new player with a defensive mindset at a critical juncture, he also substituted in Juan Agudelo for Dax McCarty in the 60th minute. That straight swap in the 60th minute represents the only changes Backe made on Saturday.

Plus 11. That's the attempts on goal differential in favor of the Red Bulls, who saw 20 good looks as compared to nine by Chicago. Both clubs only directed five shot on net, while the Red Bulls directed 13 balls wide as compared to four by the Fire. Kudos to the Fire defense for overcoming the absence of defender Cory Gibbs and creating enough traffic to keep the Red Bulls attack offline, but the Red Bulls certainly had their chances against the worst team by points in the Eastern Conference.

New York continues their playoff push on the road next weekend as they pay a visit to the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Saturday. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.