Saturday's story begins and ends with the Red Bulls' offense but still leaves them falling out of first place in the Eastern Conference.
Despite bookending the match with a first-minute goal by Dane Richards and a stoppage-time strike by Mehdi Ballouchy, New York only mustered a 2-2 draw on the road against the Houston Dynamo. Ballouchy converted his first goal of the season one minute into stoppage time by heading a Joel Lindpere corner kick above Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall and into the top right corner of the net.
Houston answered Richards' goal early by way of a Brad Davis penalty kick that culminated from a Rafael Marquez foul in the box on Dynamo forward Will Bruin. The Dynamo took the lead late after Koke picked up a rebound from a Geoff Cameron header and buried it for his first career MLS goal past Red Bulls 'keeper Greg Sutton, who started Saturday's match in place of Bouna Coundoul.
The draw combined with a Philadelphia Union win over the Chicago Fire knocks the Red Bulls out of first place. The Red Bulls continue to maintain their two-point second place lead over Houston.
Mehdi Happy Returns. Ballouchy's game-saving goal helped New York save face in its draw at Houston. Despite losing significant playing time due to the emergence of Teemu Tainio, the Moroccan midfielder came on as a substitute forward for an ineffective Juan Agudelo in hopes of providing a scoring spark for New York. He came, he saw, he delivered.
"I have been coming in and playing a lot of different positions hoping for us to do well and win the (Supporters') Shield and win the MLS Cup," said Ballouchy. "If that means me playing a smaller role and playing different positions for us to win, then that's what it takes."
Play of the Game: Sutton's Own Goal Save. The Red Bulls midfield figured prominently in the majority of the scoring chances on Saturday. However, one of those chances by a former Dynamo star almost benefited the wrong side.
Davis sent a corner kick in the 35' minute towards the near side of the net. The kick lined up perfectly with Dwayne De Rosario's positioning, who successfully deflected the ball away but inadvertently directed it towards the Red Bulls' net. A cautious Sutton recognized the ball's trajectory near the top cross bar and punched it straight up and out of bounds.
Agudelo Hype Machine: One Agudelo (Out of Five). Agudelo did not make the most of his spot start in place of an injured Thierry Henry. The young forward mustered only one shot on goal and rarely put any significant touch on the ball in a match where significantly more was expected of him. Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe substituted Ballouchy for the ineffective Agudelo in the 79' minute, which later paid dividends as Ballouchy scored the equalizer in stoppage time.
Setting Up Trouble. The Red Bulls once again struggled to defend against opposing set pieces. Both Dynamo goals culminated from set pieces, with Davis scoring on a penalty kick and Koke's rebound during a corner kick scrum. The two goals make it a total of five dead-ball goals surrendered by the Red Bulls in the last three games.
Backe maintained his zonal marking system on defense against set pieces and likely started Sutton to take advantage of his size advantage of Coundoul. The system remains a work in progress, though Sutton played well in his first start since enduring a concussion in March.
The Middle of Everywhere. By and large, the Red Bulls midfield played an effective game and provided all of the scoring. The midfield led the club with nine shots and three on target, which doesn't include de-facto midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli's contributions nor Ballouchy's late heroics. They clearly shook their discipline doldrums from last week's loss to Chivas USA and factored greatly into a 56%-to-44% possession edge for New York on Saturday.
The Red Bulls will need to quickly put Saturday's draw in the rear view mirror as they prepare to welcome the defending MLS Cup champions, the Colorado Rapids, at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday. First kick is scheduled for 8 p.m.