The Red Bulls' long-tenured bad luck charm
Roy Miller was absolutely instrumental in bringing about the result of the Red Bulls' match on Sunday night against the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Red Bulls lost, 2-1, so this is not a compliment.
Miller has a history of what might be called gaffes. There was Miller's own-goal in the first leg of the 2012 playoff match against D.C. United, and his disastrous free kick in the dying moments of the second leg. Or his foul in the 2011 playoffs, which led to a series-clinching penalty kick. Or his inexplicable defensive lapse that led to the series-clinching goal in the 2010 playoffs.
But Sunday night, it should be said, was something special.
The Red Bulls had jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first half, and despite better pressure from the Earthquakes, still led 1-0 into the 80th minute. Miller's sloppy tackles led to a pair of set-piece opportunities for San Jose, putting pressure on the defense and altering what had been a run of play that had been fairly even.
Then, in the 83rd minute, San Jose's Sam Cronin sent a cross into the box. Adam Jahn easily got behind Miller and scored the goal. On the replay, it isn't clear that Miller even saw the attacking player making a run toward the goal. The match was tied, 1-1.
In the 90th minute, defending a fairly routine-looking corner kick from San Jose, Miller inexplicably put his arm high into the air and committed one of the most pointless hand balls of all time. Tim Cahill was in perfect position to deal with the shot, as was goalkeeper Luis Robles.
Luckily, San Jose's Chris Wondolowski, last season's golden boot winner in M.L.S., wasn't able to convert the penalty, thanks to an epic save from Robles. No harm done, right?
Wrong. Miller ran into the penalty area several seconds before Wondolowski took the penalty. He didn't in any way materially affect the play, but the encroachment meant Wondolowski got another chance to score the penalty kick. He didn't miss the second. And that was that.
Red Bulls coach Mike Petke made no excuses for Miller following the game.
"I'm not going to tell him a word tonight," Petke said in his postgame presser, in response to how he'd approach Miller. "Calm myself down a little bit, watch the video on the plane, and then address all the issues."
It says something about the Red Bulls, and their chronic inability to contend, that Roy Miller is the longest-tenured player on the club, with 81 appearances and 73 starts dating back to 2010.
In theory, he should be a weapon, a left back with pace and athleticism who can also push forward. But his mistakes have cost the Red Bulls, again and again, while he hasn't scored any goals, or done much to create them. (He does in fact look good going forward, right until he passes to an opponent, or send the ball soaring in to the stands.)
The Red Bulls have alternatives in the lineup. Markus Holgersson can partner with Jamison Olave at center back, with Heath Pearce moving to the left back spot Miller has occupied in his first two games. It's a less elegant alternative, but Connor Lade can also be deployed in Miller's spot.
As Petke's barely restrained anger after the game indicates, Miller is officially a problem for the Red Bulls. His biggest mistakes have cost the Red Bulls in their last three playoff appearances. But it may have taken that late-game meltdown, which kept the Red Bulls from taking three points on the road against last season's Supporters Shield winners, to make the extent of that problem unavoidably clear.