HARRISON, N.J. — A week ago, Jesse Marsch implored his team to get back to the brand of soccer we had come to expect from the New York Red Bulls. Minutes after an embarrassing showing in a 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy, Marsch huddled his men in the middle of the field at Red Bull Arena and challenged them to rediscover the form that's made them one of the league's best in recent seasons.
The Red Bulls responded on Friday, and though they weren't able to secure their first win since April, they did turn in a strong showing against the most in-form team in MLS. It may have taken a Luis Robles penalty save and an eagle-eyed referee's decision, but the Red Bulls were able to stop the bleeding with a well-earned 1-1 draw against Toronto FC on Friday night.
"Overall I'm really pleased with the response after the L.A. game because that looked like us, that felt like us," Marsch said. "It was a great game. Great game from both sides.
On a hot night that saw temperatures hovering in the mid-80s, the Red Bulls were able to draw first blood on a Bradley Wright-Phillips overhead kick before halftime that pumped some life into a match that had started off sluggishly. The second half was a much more open and entertaining contest as temperatures cooled, and TFC pushed for an equalizer that finally came in the 70th minute on a Benoit Cheyrou header.
Toronto FC showed glimpses of the quality that had helped the Canadian club put together a league-best six-match winning streak, but the absence of injured star Sebastian Giovinco did limit the attack, especially considering the Red Bulls defense was able to do a good job of containing U.S. national team striker Jozy Altidore, whose only shot on goal all night was the penalty kick he had saved by Robles in the 81st minute.
TFC nearly snatched all three points late on when Toisaint Ricketts scored what appeared to be a winner, only to have referee Robert Sibiga rule that Raheem Edwards was in an active offside position on a Cheyrou shot that led to the loose ball Rickets pounced on. Replays supported the decision.
Despite coming up short in extending the longest winning streak in the league this season, TFC still came away from Friday's match looking very much like a team that can be considered one of, if not the strongest team in MLS. As much as TFC could have taken all three points, the vibe after the game was a positive one from a team that earned a road point, and made it 16 points from a grueling stretch of seven matches in three weeks.
“The mood is good," Altidore said. "Like I said before, it’s my responsibility, I take responsibility today because if I was a little bit better, a little sharper, we win the game and so that’s on me. The guys were great today, everyone put in a good effort so spirits are high.”
“The win streak was going to come to an end at some point," Vanney said. "We knew this was a tough place to play. We got down a goal, but continued to battle, got the equalizer, continued to battle for the goal that would have won it.
"Again, I'm proud of the effort," Vanney said. "I think I was happy with our second-half performance. Still some things that can tighten up. I will probably always say that. But we came into a difficult place to play. We very much could have taken three points out of this.”
There was a similar mood in the Red Bulls locker room, even though the draw pushed them to four matches without a win.
"I think we can feel pretty good about the type of game that we were in, and that we stuck around," Sacha Kljestan said. "We also should maybe feel good that we played the best team in the league and it was a pretty even match, so that shows pretty well for the future for us hopefully."
The draw leaves the Red Bulls nine points behind TFC in the Eastern Conference standings, a larger gap than most would have expected to see at this point in the season. The Red Bulls remain a team still trying to find a consistent level and a team that, quite frankly, is still adapting to life without former captain and All-Star midfielder Dax McCarty. Friday's match did offer up some evidence though that the Red Bulls are still capable of playing well enough to be among the best teams in MLS.
"It's a long season, and a lot of teams go through their moments where you just have to clean up a few things," Vanney told Goal. "You lose track of something, maybe some things that are important as a group that make you successful. Just a couple of things being off can turn things against you, and I think that's the case with (the Red Bulls).
"They're a good team but just a couple of things aren't going well for them right now. Things that they just need to tighten up eventually and they're a team that's fully capable of running a stretch of wins.
"We know they'll be there somewhere in the end, that's what we talked about this week," Vanney said. "No matter what form they're in, this is a team that — in order to get to where we want to go — we'll have to go through this team."