If there ever was an example of “parking the bus” in front of net, the Red Bulls-Philadelphia Union 0-0 draw last Saturday would be the best representation of that metaphor.
Parking the bus is soccer nomenclature used to describe one team playing ultra defensively and inviting the opposing team to attack, while hoping to spring counterattacks to steal a result. Philadelphia didn't score, but, in the end, the Union came away as the happier team.
Despite having the advantage over the Union all across the stats sheet – ball possession, attempted shots and total passes – the Red Bulls couldn't conjure an opening in the final third. While not the most exciting brand of soccer, the Union's strategy of packing the midfield, putting numbers behind the ball and playing on the counter was effective and was able to disrupt New York’s attacking flow.
“It’s frustrating,” Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty said after the match. “But I think we expected it a little bit. We didn’t expect them to come in here and play a very open game. They came in here with a mentality to stay organized … we knew their gameplan, it’s something we should be used to when we play at home.”
New York enjoyed the lion’s share of possession throughout the match – an eye-opening 63 percent – but the Red Bulls didn’t make their ball dominance count against Union goalie Zac MacMath. MacMath only had to make one difficult save throughout the entire match, a stoppage-time header from Brandon Barklage off a corner. The lack of quality goalscoring opportunities was something that stuck out in McCarty’s mind.
“We just weren’t decisive in the final third [Saturday],” he said. “We had a few half chances, had most of the ball, most of the possession throughout the midfield … at the end of the day, we weren’t dynamic enough going forward. We didn’t have enough movement, didn’t create enough chances, little stagnant with our ball movement. It was a little slow.”
Ball movement and tempo was something Tim Cahill harped upon when asked about the game. The Australian international also said that the Red Bulls needed a spark in the attacking third in order to unlock Philadelphia’s defensive shell. Unfortunately for Cahill, the Red Bulls were unable to find it.
[Ball movement] was too slow, 100 percent,” he said. “In a game, someone has to do something to change it. If that one bit of brilliance changes the game, then that obviously makes everything OK. We must have put in 30 crosses. We have to look at ourselves and quality of the ball, the timing. It’s not a bad thing; at least we’re creating chances. But it’s hard to comprehend because we were the better team.”
For head coach Mike Petke, it came down to execution. While the Red Bulls had their bright spots, Petke’s team didn’t do enough to get the three points.
“We didn't do enough to win,” Petke said in the postmatch press conference. “We had moments – we had a lot of moments, actually. But overall, we couldn't find a way.”
[WATCH: Petke's Postgame Press Conference After Union Match]
While the Red Bulls were left disappointed, the team still found positives they could take away from their draw with the Union.
Coupled with Sporting Kansas City’s 1-0 loss to San Jose, the 0-0 draw moved New York into a tie with Sporting for first place in the Eastern Conference. The standings remain tight at the top, with Montreal and Philadelphia just a point behind the leaders and Houston three back.
The Red Bulls also kept their first clean sheet since July 20, when they played to a scoreless draw with Toronto FC.
Holding the high-powered Union scoreless is something that the Red Bulls can build off of.
“The clean sheet is good confidence for the guys,” Petke said. “It’s good to look up there and see a zero. The zero on the other side is what we’re not happy with right now, but we’ll begrudgently take a point and move on.”
Cahill took heart from the way the Red Bulls were able to grind out a draw despite not being at their best against Philadelphia.
“The only positive thing [about Saturday] is we played average and got a result,” he said. “We’re playing OK, we’re not playing unbelievable, but still can nick games.”
A Look Ahead: Chivas USA
It’s back to matters on the road Sunday, as the Red Bulls make the cross-country trip to Los Angeles to take on Chivas USA. (Full coverage is on MSG beginning at 4:30 PM)
Struggling mightily in the Western Conference – Chivas is dead last in the standings – the co-tenants of the StubHub Center have made more news off the field than they have on it. While the Red Bulls will be making the trek across the country, Chivas will be playing its third match of the week and is coming off a 3-1 defeat to FC Dallas at home Wednesday. Nevertheless, with their struggles away from Red Bull Arena this season, the Red Bulls expect another tough match.
[READ: Red Bulls Continue Road Woes]
“I still don’t think we always play very well on the road for whatever reason that is,” McCarty said. “This is still something that we’re trying to figure out. We need to go into Chivas expecting to get three points. Obviously on any given day they can come out and play and they’re a little bit unpredictable with the players they have … we’re going to have to be focused.”
Despite their tough record away from home, Cahill believes that the Red Bulls can put their past performances behind them and put in a good shift Sunday.
“It’s another big game for us and every point counts,” Cahill said. “Obviously [Saturday] we drew and go [into a tie for first place] … it’s all part and parcel of being a big club and dealing what’s thrown at you."