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Monday Evening Centerback: Bulled Over

After a rough evening in Harrison, let's take a look at what went right and wrong in the Hudson Derby.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past month, NYCFC has continually regressed to the point were David Villa called last night's game "rock bottom."

When a deflected goal did them in against Portland, it was easy to shrug and blame the loss on luck. In Chicago, they played ugly but hung in — only surrendering a strike on a misplay by the backup keeper. It wasn't an encouraging game, but it was easy to see as a non-repeatable performance. Last week against Seattle, they threatened to steal a win with solid possession and an attacking gameplan, only to fade in the last 30 minutes against a class-of-the-league team.

Last night NYCFC left Red Bull Arena with few positives to take from a poor, disjointed and concerning performance. Let’s take a look at some of the good, but mostly bad from the first Hudson Derby:

10 Men: One of the few blue positives last night was Khiry Shelton drawing two yellow cards on Matt Miazga, leading to his dismissal in the 35th minute. At that point, the Gotham Blues were already down 1-0 and appeared to catch a huge break.

In the old pool trick, the hustler lets the whale take four balls off the table, creating the illusion of an advantage. Instead, the whale is clearing room for the hustler to operate. The Miazga red card seemed almost like four balls off the table. NYCFC seemingly had the advantage of an unmarked man for a near hour, but they never played as if they were a man up. Instead, NYRB moved the ball freely and fluidly, as if 10 men opened the field.

Kreis’ Subs: Hard to argue with Mullins, Ballouchy (more on him in a bit) and Poku coming on at the expense of Mix, Villa and Alvarez when result is a goal. Each of the three subs touched the ball on the sequence leading up to Mullins’ second of the year. However, being subbed out — especially so early in the half — has got to be an embarrassment for both Mix and Villa. Mix, who was nominally in a more attacking position this game, couldn't seem to get in a rhythm while Villa was a nonfactor. According to Kreis, Villa was subbed off to help manage his injury -- NYCFC has a short week coming up -- but Mix was taken off because of performance.

It’s great having a talent like Villa on the field and in his touches, he shows a skill beyond most others on the pitch. However, he’s being wasted this season as the club can’t get him the ball in any real significant moments. When the midfield can service him, like in the New England game, he’s a game changer. When they can’t, he languishes.

RJ Allen: A tale of two halves for Allen. In the first half, he looked very much like someone who hadn't played competitively for a year — he looked like the literal man off the street signing. Lloyd Sam continuously challenged him and took advantage of the mismatch. NYCFC had a few problems on the first goal allowed, but one was Allen’s inability to deflect the chip into the box.

In the second half, Allen’s better qualities showed through. He served a on-point ball for Mullins on the NYCFC goal and proved to be a valuable outlet pushing forward on the wing as the offense scrambled to tie the game. Additionally, he recovered well enough on a few NYRB attacks down in the box.

Backline Confusion: Over the past few games, the backline has been like a tollbooth on the GW bridge: they've let attackers through, but with a bit of resistance. Bradley Wright-Phillips, Lloyd Sam, Dane Richards and Sacha Kljestan all were equipped with EZ Pass — each flew right through the NYCFC defense. Throughout the season due to injury, illness and suspension, Kreis has been forced to mix and match his defense and the inconsistency was exposed this week (as well as last).

The first NYRB goal was a result of Allen not getting a foot on the ball and both Wingert and Hernandez losing track of Bradley Wright-Phillips in the box. (I’m no coach, but I’d think you’d want someone on the defending league leader in goals like white on rice.) The second goal came on a 3-v-3 rush in which all three NYCFC defenders failed to get within even an arm’s length of a Red Bull.

The defense consisted of three players who didn’t start last week, which is never a good recipe for success. The club sorely missed the steadiness of Jeb Brovsky, who was out with a nerve issue. Next game Kwame Watson-Siriboe will be back and perhaps Brovsky will be ready to go, which could help stabilize the defense.

Set Pieces: As noted in last week’s Centerback, Medhi Ballouchy was erratic and unproductive serving NYCFC set pieces, which caused a number of squandered opportunities. In the first half last night, David Villa and Pablo Alvarez took all the NYCFC set pieces. Though the Blues couldn't capitalize on the corners and free kicks, each ball was served into a spot where it could have been played.

When Villa and Alvarez were subbed off and Ballouchy came back on, he took over set piece duties. In the few remaining opportunities, Ballouchy wasted opportunities with errant passes. With an offense as strapped as NYCFC’s, these chances can’t fall by the wayside.

Connecting Passes: The Red Bulls looked every bit of a team that’s been together for awhile (even if there are some new parts) while NYCFC continued to look like a team thrown together months before the season. NYRB consistently found each other with solid passes — the Kljestan-Sam-BWP connection on the second goal was a thing of beauty — while NYCFC continued to litter the field with passes off their intended targets. The Blues gave away possession much to easily and need to be hit targets with passes more consistently.

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What do you think? Are there any more positives to take away from this game? How are you feeling heading into the short week?