Despite executing Robert Warzycha's gameplan almost perfectly, it was Tim Cahill's looping header over Andy Gruenebaum that was the difference in the Crew's 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday afternoon. The Australian midfielder's tally came off a rebound from a tremendous Gruenebaum save to deny Jonny Steele, just eight minutes after Red Bull goalkeeper Luis Robles saved a Federico Higuaín penalty.
Robles' save was the turning point in a match that the Crew had previously been dominant.
"Unfortunately, I couldn't kick the way I'm used to," Higuaín said through a translator after the match. "I couldn't convert. I had the opportunity to convert that into a goal, and just couldn't this time. I'm very sad after the situation that could've given the Crew the win. All that's left after that is to keep working, try to keep improving."
"The penalty changed everything," Head Coach Robert Warzycha added. "If we scored that penalty, we would probably win the game."
The Black & Gold out-shot New York 15-7 on the afternoon. Despite 10 opportunities from set pieces (five corner kicks, five free kicks), the Crew was unable to find the back of the net. Both Warzycha and Chad Marshall complimented the Red Bull backline for its defense on restarts.
"I think New York did a good job of defending [set pieces]," Warzycha explained. "I don't think anything was missing. I think Pipa was serving a pretty good ball. I'm sure they watched video and they knew what we are capable of doing. It seems like they put their head on the ball every single time. They defended well."
Added Marshall: "It's just tough. They're a good team in the air too. They've got some big guys just like us."
Despite the Crew's success of scoring five goals from set pieces so far in 2013, the Black & Gold would like to see better performance from the run of play-- especially after controlling possession for most of the match on Saturday.
"I thought for the most part we controlled the tempo of the game," Marshall said. "We just haven't really been able to really break anything down from the run of play and get opportunities. I think we need that. We can't always rely on set pieces even though we are good at those."
"I feel like we definitely put them under pressure, which was something we were trying to do going into the game," midfielder Eddie Gaven echoed. "We didn't give them too much time or space to play. It just needs to be a little bit better when we get that ball into the final third.
"That last pass, last shot just wasn't always there."
After Red Bull forward Thierry Henry torched the Crew for four goals and two assists in two meetings in 2012, the Black & Gold made it a priority to limit the Frenchman's chances on Saturday. Marshall, Gláuber and Danny O'Rourke brought a physical aggressiveness to defending Henry, frustrating the superstar in the process. Henry was unable to muster a single shot on Saturday against the Crew.
"[Henry] is a good player, obviously. He had his way with us last year, so we wanted to be physical with him and limit his touches," Marshall explained. "I thought we did a good job of keeping guys around him.
"They're a good offensive team and they didn't really have anything on us."
Added Warzycha: "[Henry] is a good player -- so whatever you do, you have to stop him from scoring the goals. [The Crew defense] did a good job on Henry today. I don't think I remember him having too much success, to be honest."
ONE MORE FOR THE HOMESTAND
Next weekend, the Crew will close a three-match homestand as the Black & Gold host the Colorado Rapids before heading back on the road for matches in Toronto and New York. The Crew would like nothing more than to finish the stretch with a win against the Rapids, especially after Saturday's disappointment against the Red Bulls.
"Definitely after a loss, you always want to put that game in the past," Gaven said. "Learn from it and move on. Having a game at home next weekend will hopefully give us the opportunity to do that. Hopefully we can get back on track and get three points."