Roy Miller receives a fair share of scrutiny for his defensive performances, but his puzzling contributions in the final 10 minutes at Buck Shaw Stadium will likely endanger his place in the side and could threaten his future with the club.
It is hard to imagine a more damaging sequence for a fullback that does not include an own goal or a dismissal:
- Miller found himself exposed on the equalizing goal as he – and, to be fair, the rest of the Red Bulls rearguard and goalkeeper Luis Robles – froze and watched Adam Jahn polish off Sam Cronin's inviting cross at the back post.
- The beleaguered left back then conceded a penalty kick because he had his arms flailing about for little reason.
- He compounded his misery by inexplicably rushing into the penalty area before Chris Wondolowski struck the resulting spot kick. Robles saved the attempt, but referee Ricardo Salazar correctly granted Wondolowski a second attempt due to Miller's encroachment. Wondolowski converted at the second time of asking to give the Earthquakes their first comeback win of 2013.
- Miller subsequently made way for debutant Amando Moreno in second-half stoppage time.
Petke passed on the chance to excoriate Miller – “(Stuff) happens,” Petke told MLSsoccer.com's Jonah Freedman after the match concluded. Unfortunately for Miller, Petke and the Red Bulls, that phrase applies a bit too often to Miller's defensive responsibilities for everyone's comfort.
This latest incident will likely give the Red Bulls pause even though there are tangible reasons behind his continued presence in the starting XI. Miller, 28, represents a cherished commodity in MLS: he is an experienced international (more than 30 caps) willing to play for a modest wage ($112,495.50 in guaranteed compensation in 2012, according to MLS Players Union documents). He offers a technical option at left back and pushes into the attack frequently to help the Red Bulls in possession.
Those qualities, however, may not compensate for his contributions to the Red Bulls' dearth of composure late in matches. Miller – and he is not alone in this category by any stretch – buckles under pressure. Call it the Curse of Caricola if you will, but this group of players struggles to close out games.
It isn't just the standard fare, either. Miller's encroachment represents the second time in three outings – including the galling incident on Kenny Cooper's spot kick in the 1-0 home defeat to D.C. United to end last season – where a Red Bull player or players lacked the discipline and the presence of mind to avert avoidable disaster.
After watching his side chuck away points in two consecutive road matches (a haul of six points turned into one), Petke must find a way to establish the necessary confidence in his side once again. Talent – as always – is not the concern. Belief and nerve remain the primary problems.
And if Petke needs to drop Miller and play Connor Lade (or Heath Pearce in his natural position with Markus Holgersson recalled in the middle) on the left instead to help the cause, then he may have to weigh that option. It may or may not produce the intended result, but the status quo simply won't suffice.
Five Points – Week 2
1. Slow start leaves Sporting Kansas City wanting more...: For the second straight week, Sporting stumbled out of the gate. The second-half improvement did not yield a result this time, though. Robert Earnshaw's early double – one from a gaffe and one from the spot – allowed Toronto FC to claim its first win of the Ryan Nelsen era with a 2-1 victory at the Rogers Centre on Saturday afternoon. It is too early for the Eastern Conference favorites to panic after significant offseason retooling, but they must learn from this setback and make progress quickly in order to sidestep long-term concerns.
2. ...and paves the way for a slice of Canadian history: TFC's surprising home win laid the foundation for a uniquely successful day for Canadian clubs. Montréal (a 2-1 victor at Portland) and Vancouver (a 2-1 winner against Columbus) also emerged with all three points from their matches. The collective success of all three clubs from north of the border marked the first time every Canadian team had won on the same day since the Impact joined the league at the start of last season.
3. Impact continues to grind out results: Forget about those road woes from last season. Montréal has figured it out: keep things tight and wait for the right moment to counter. Both tenets paid dividends at JELD-WEN Field on Saturday night. Although this conservative approach isn't particularly ambitious, it has certainly made the Impact perhaps the most impressive side in the league through the first fortnight.
One measure of the magnitude of the work accomplished over the first two weekends: Montréal is the first team from the Eastern Time Zone since the 1996 New England Revolution to win two consecutive matches in the Pacific Time Zone, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
4. Real Salt Lake's troubles in D.C. continue: United extended RSL's winless skid at RFK Stadium to nine matches with a 1-0 victory on Saturday night. The visitors probably warranted a point for their performance, but Lionard Pajoy's header on the hour eventually separated the sides.
RSL boss Jason Kreis may have to worry about potential Disciplinary Committee action after Abdoulie Mansally headbutted Perry Kitchen shortly after Pajoy's winner, but he won't give much thought to his side's struggles in the District.
“We have a few places where we haven’t won, and I’m sorry, I just don’t give it much thought,” Kreis told reporters after the match. “I’m sorry, I don’t care. I know everybody really wants to care, but I really don’t care.”
5. Chelis claims his first win, continues his one-man quest to draw attention to Chivas USA: The Red-and-White cobbled together three straight goals to dispatch FC Dallas, 3-1, in front of a sparse crowd at the Home Depot Center on Sunday afternoon. Chivas USA boss José Luis Sánchez Solá said his players deserved more support after producing their first win of the season.
“The organization needs to believe in us,” Sánchez Solá said during his compelling post-match press conference. “Today shows that we deserve better. Ten million Mexicans live in Los Angeles. Believe me, when you come out and there's 4,000 out there, it's tough. [The official attendance was 6,801.] We've got to do something. The ones that are on the pitch, believe me, we're giving 100 percent. We'll see what other department[s] can join and get on board.”