New York's attempt to reclaim first place in the East just took another bad bounce.
Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa's bouncing shot from distance in the 58th minute helped his Chicago side collect a 1-1 draw against the visiting Red Bulls at Toyota Park on Sunday. Red Bulls 'keeper Bouna Coundoul, making his first start in any competition since representing his native Senegal on June 4 as well as his first MLS start since May 21, fell short in his attempt to parry Pappa's dribbler and enabled the Fire to answer an early Joel Lindpere goal for the side's MLS-record sixth consecutive draw at home.
The draw leaves New York (5-3-9) looking up at the Philadelphia Union (7-4-5) in the Eastern Conference standings after the Union reclaimed first place with a win against Chivas USA on Saturday.
Lindy Hop. While many will point to perceptions of goalkeeping struggles for the Red Bulls, they may just as easily overlook the goal by Lindpere that sent New York into halftime with a lead. Thierry Henry sent a ball through traffic into the box that deflected off Fire defender Yamith Cuesta. Lindpere then picked up the rebound and hit a grounder past Chicago 'keeper Sean Johnson for an easy finish.
With Lindpere's goal, New York has now scored at least one goal in the first half of the club's last 13 matches. No club has kept a clean sheet against the Red Bulls since the Union accomplished the feat on April 9.
Play of the Game: Bouna's Blunder. New York accomplished all the things one would expect of a winning side on Sunday. Lindpere produced a lead before halftime. The back line largely kept a speedy Fire attack in check. They completed over 100 more passes that the home side and kept their fouls to a minimum.
And then Coundoul surrendered what was by all accounts a soft goal to Pappa. The Sengalese 'keeper was in position when Pappa took a rather pedestrian shot from 25 yards out. Unfortunately, Coundoul struggled with a short hop at the last moment and was left flailing at the ball as it bounced inside the far post.
New York now has only one since April 30 -- a stretch of ten matches littered with blown leads, mental gaffes, and shortcomings. Those troubles are wearing on the players who now find themselves struggling to enjoy their day jobs.
"It's not fun anymore," Lindpere said to Big Apple Soccer. "We score one, but we give goals back. They get very stupid, easy goals against us, and then we fight to get the goals back. Then we do something stupid again."
Out of Service. While the Red Bulls midfield helped smother the Fire's attacking efforts, they forgot to leave the embers burning for their own offense.
Three fourths of the Red Bulls' midfield is now intact, with only Dwayne De Rosario playing out of position as he started up top to replace Luke Rodgers. However, the chemistry remains out of sorts as they could not feed the Red Bulls offense in the attacking zone. Chicago out-shot New York 9-1 in the second half, indicating a lack of service to balance that total by maintaining possession. Henry frequently came back to join the midfield and get the ball, which was previously a telltale sign of the dysfunction that crippled the the Red Bulls offense in April.
Lindpere gave New York an early lead, but he and his cohorts did little else on the offensive end for the rest of the match.
Back in the High Life. With the Gold Cup tournament concluding last Saturday, defenders Stephen Keel and Carlos Mendes likely saw their chances dwindling to make up for past transgressions.
Save for a yellow card issued to Mendes in the 53rd minute, the pairing rose to the challenge and left the Fire frustrated for most of the match. Fire forwards Dominic Oduro and Orr Barouch failed to register a shot on target and could not get behind the Red Bulls' back line despite showing better pace for much of the match. That includes an early save by Keel in the 15th minute, who rushed back to deflect a shot towards net by Oduro mere moments before Chicago would claim an early lead.
Coupled with Jan Gunnar Solli patrolling the right flank again and an effective outing by left back Roy Miller, the defense distrusted Fire passing lanes and cut off distribution in a solid defensive effort that will be fortified with the remaining Gold Cup participants soon.
Golden Band-Aid. The conclusion of the Gold Cup means forward Juan Agudelo and defender Tim Ream should return soon, but the same can't be said for Ream's counter part, Rafael Marquez. The Mexican captain left the Gold Cup final match on a stretcher last Saturday with what was later described as a hamstring injury, leaving his prognosis in doubt for the foreseeable future. Marquez likely wasn't going to play in New York's next match on Tuesday, but now their Saturday trip to San Jose is in limbo as well.
The Red Bulls now head home to prepare for a true derby match as they welcome USL side FC New York to Red Bull Arena on Tuesday as part of the 2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament. First kick is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.