That. Was. Rough.
The game started with such promise. Unlike the first time New York City visited Harrison, New Jersey, the Blues came out flying, answering the Red Bulls' high press with flowing passes. They repeatedly threatened to score, and nearly did early in the game.
This was the lineup for tonight's game.
A couple of days ago, I ripped Mix Diskerud a new one. I called for New York City to sell him. He played like a man possessed tonight; easily, Mix was one of New York City's best players, flying around his side of the field, contributing on offense and defense. His volley shot early in the game was New York City's best attempt of the game. I've spent time around lots of players; the great ones rise up to the pressure, and answer the bell when it's rung.
Mix did that tonight. It's a shame that he's walking away from tonight's game without any reward for his Herculean efforts. Here's hoping we see a lot more of that going forward. You can say the same thing for Tommy McNamara, who was every bit as influential for the Blues on the left. He constantly got in dangerous positions, and helped set up scoring opportunities.
On the disappointing side of the ledger: Frank Lampard. The English midfielder was New York City's second designated player signing. This was his first start. It's still early; but all the warning signs are there. My biggest concern with getting Lampard halfway into the season was how he'd measure up. After the press conference announcing his signing, I asked coach Jason Kreis how he'd deal with Lampard if — as it turned out, sadly — he arrived midway through the MLS season. Kreis made clear his dislike for that, saying that Lampard would have difficulty adjusting.
So far, that's the case. He was anonymous against Montreal last week; this week, against New York, Lampard tried hard to put his stamp in the game. He had a couple of golden scoring chances early on. But as the game wore on, he began to fade hard into the background. By the time he was substituted in the 86th minute, shortly after getting embarrassingly nutmegged by the Red Bulls' Mike Grella to set up the second goal of the game, Lampard was a shell of himself. Gassed. Spent. Broken.
In fact, this was one of the frustrating things about tonight's game. For the first time, New York City was starting all three of their DPs. Yet, for all that talent, it was rarely able to combine for much effect, as the Red Bulls defense constantly frustrated New York City's offensive forays. For the second game, Andrea Pirlo looked harried on the ball, a step or two slow, forced to deal with relentless pressure all game long. He had one bad giveaway late in the second half that nearly led to a Red Bulls goal.
Which brings up another frustrating thing: this was, ostensibly, New York City's best eleven. I still think that. But in order for it to live up to expectations, New York City's going to have to do a much better job of protecting Pirlo, giving him the time he needs on the ball. I don't know how they do that with this lineup. Especially if Lampard continues to play like this; I watched the game at Ryan's Daughter, and the fans were vehemently yelling for Poku to be subbed on for Lampard.
Bottom line: New York City need legs and energy around Lampard and Pirlo. Otherwise, we're going to be seeing more of what we saw tonight, and last week against Montreal.
As it stands, New York City have a rough month ahead. They play Eastern leaders DC United at home on Thursday, then follow that up with road games against Columbus and LA, a home date versus the Crew, and cap it with a road trip to Frisco, Texas to take on FC Dallas. Making the playoffs is a long shot; still possible, but a long shot. If Jason Kreis' seat wasn't hot before, it is now. That may be unfair, but life is. But with the Hudson River Derby series over, New York City have nothing left to lose, and history to make.
It starts again against DC. Win, and Columbus awaits. They have shown surprising fragility for a good team; win again, and things begin to look a bit brighter. But winning is the only thing that matters.