Breakdown: New York leans on depth to end its lengthy drought in New England
New York coach Mike Petke placed his side’s victory at Gillette Stadium in rather stark context after the game: he actually played in the Red Bulls’ last regular-season win in this building.
The fact is actually more staggering with a little bit of background. The triumph didn’t even occur during Petke’s second spell with the team between 2008 and 2010. The Red Bulls weren’t even the Red Bulls the last time they came to Foxborough and left with three points. Gillette Stadium wasn’t even named Gillette Stadium.
The old Metrostars accomplished the feat on June 29, 2002 with Tim Howard in goal, Petke in defense, Brad Davis in midfield, Clint Mathis up front and Mamadou Diallo in the locker room for the final 58 minutes after receiving a first-half red card for kicking Adin Brown in the face. No Red Bulls team followed suit until Sunday.
The fallow period between victories encompassed that name change and spanned more than a decade. Countless players tried and failed to break the duck during 17 fruitless attempts (0-11-6). Nine teams played their first MLS games as the Red Bulls attempted to end their futile spell.
Eric Alexander and Péguy Luyindula finally drew the hex to a close in the 2-0 victory over New England on Sunday night. The long-awaited victory involved all of the peculiarities – including a patchwork Red Bulls lineup, a hastily changed surface and a massive collision between Revolution players on the first goal – expected from the club’s first success at Gillette Stadium in 12 years.
“This year, I thought this was possibly going to be our most difficult game up here,” Petke said after the match. “Not only were we without players, but they’re a damn good team and they move the ball well. We had a lot of concerns about winning this game, to be honest with you, I don’t know why it’s so difficult to come up here and play. But they got it done tonight, so I am very proud of them.”
This group managed to accomplish the feat with Thierry Henry and Jámison Olave essentially cast aside by some clever scheduling. Mexico and Portugal played on a temporary grass surface on Friday night. The grounds crew spent much of Saturday pulling up the sod and restoring the artificial surface for the Sunday afternoon kickoff.
Henry (Achilles) and Olave (knee) generally do not play on these sorts of surfaces to avoid any lingering, longer-term effects. Their absences – coupled with Dax McCarty’s knee injury and the World Cup commitments for Tim Cahill and Roy Miller – left Petke to cobble together a lineup and use the situation to provoke a response.
“I challenged the guys before,” Petke said. “I really wanted them to have a chip on their shoulder. A lot of talk was made about the grass that was put down on Friday here, the beautiful sod they paid for just to rip it up the next day when we were coming. I don’t blame them at all. Honestly, I’d do the same thing if I (knew) Henry and Olave would miss it. It’s not Red Buabout that, but I challenged the guys – and perhaps it was a little gamesmanship on my part – and said this is what they think of you. They really focused on two guys who won’t make it. They don’t think much of you. By all means, I’m not saying that’s why we got the result, but I wanted them to have that chip on their shoulder about that. Perhaps they did a little bit.”
They also possessed the fortitude to meander through the difficult moments in the game without conceding and take advantage of the opportunities presented. The defensive shape – including Homegrown defender Matt Miazga in his first MLS start – bent without breaking. Alexander nodded home the opener from a set piece when Bobby Shuttleworth and Andy Dorman collided in the goal area. Luyindula grabbed the critical second with a sublime piece of skill from the remnants of another free kick. And Luis Robles once again contributed a couple of timely interventions to allow his side to emerge with a victory.
“The guys are very positive, and everyone believes in each other,” Robles said. “That’s our belief. We knew we could get three points this week and we did. We were lucky to get the first goal, which put us in a great spot, and we played well after.”
It takes a little bit of luck and a lot of resolve to draw such a protracted streak to a close. But it is now relegated to past. The barren run in suburban Boston is over. And Petke and his players can now move onto the next reminder of the past – a fourth-round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tie with New York Cosmos on Saturday – with three points in hand.