Twelve games into the season, the Red Bulls are fit to be tied.
A New York lineup depleted by international call-ups and injuries prolonged its ongoing five-game winless streak in a 1-1 draw against the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps. A Carlos Mendes foul in the penalty area gave the 'Caps a penalty kick -- the third penalty kick conceded by the Red Bulls in as many weeks -- in the 24' minute that Eric Hassli converted for an early lead. Luke Rodgers responded 10 minutes later by picking up a soft cross from Jan Gunnar Solli from the right side of the box and tapping it past 'Caps keeper Jay Nolly to draw level.
The draw combined with a 6-2 Philadelphia Union win over Toronto FC pushes the Red Bulls two points back of first place in the Eastern Conference.
The Patchwork XI. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe had his work cut out for him early as he worked to accommodate a depleted roster. He lost two -- Rafael Marquez and Dane Richards -- to international duty and three -- Thierry Henry, Carl Robinson, and Chris Albright -- to injury.
Backe's response left Red Bulls fans shaking their heads at first kick. He placed Juan Agudelo in the starting lineup in place of Henry, but moved the young forward to left midfield in favor of starting Dwayne De Rosario alongside Rodgers up top. Solli moved up from right back to right midfield, which left Mehdi Ballouchy watching from New York due to visa issues. Mendes shifted from center back to right back in favor of Stephen Keel receiving his second MLS start alongside Tim Ream.
As Agudelo, Ream, and De Rosario will now depart for the Gold Cup, Backe will be forced to concoct more makeshift starting XIs in June. If Saturday's any indication, no one is cemented at any role save the forwards.
Play of the Game: Jolly's Save on Kassel. In the 79' minute, a tired Red Bulls squad mustered one last scoring chance after moving the ball quickly up the left wing to De Rosario. De Ro lobbed a pass from the left side of the penalty area to the right side of the arc, where rookie midfielder Matt Kassel volleyed it toward the top right corner of the net. If not for a spectacular save by Nolly, Kassel would have delivered a late lead so desperately sought by New York.
According to Opta Sports, the Red Bulls have once converted a tie at half-time into a win this season -- out of eight opportunities. When a club is converting 12.5% of its ties into wins, it can make a nice save against Kassel a little tougher to accept.
Suddenly Sutton. Despite Bouna Coundoul making a big splash as the Red Bulls 'keeper in the early part of the season, Greg Sutton returned to the starting job without controversy upon his return from a concussion. Sutton has now overseen the club's three consecutive ties while allowing two goals to the Houston Dynamo and one apiece to Vancouver and the Colorado Rapids.
It's unfair to point the finger at Sutton for the club's troubles with set pieces and penalty kicks. However, he may need to steal a game if the weakened Red Bulls lineup struggles to muster much offense in June. If he is not up to the task, the drum beat for Coundoul may grow louder.
Fire at Will. New York sustained the attack on Vancouver throughout the match, leading in possession at 56%-to-44% and taking 15 attempts on goal. The Red Bulls also did not stifle their own attacking, finding themselves offside only twice throughout Saturday's match.
Only three of those attempts concluded as shots on target, though. Vancouver blocked four and New York sent the other eight elsewhere. Backe can find some relief in seeing his club take so many shots with the possession edge, but that relief will be tempered by the club's shoddy targeting.
Moral Victories. While the Red Bulls fought to keep themselves in Saturday's match, they fought against a lowly 'Caps side with a 1-5-6 record that leaves Vancouver tied with the Chicago Fire for the second worst record in MLS. New York has 22 games ahead to chase a playoff spot and the Supporters' Shield, but one would think exiting Rain City with a more positive result would make those chases a bit easier.
The Red Bulls have a full week to sort out their new roster configurations before welcoming the Columbus Crew to Red Bull Arena next Saturday. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.