NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Sunday, March 20, 2016, 1:37 AM
The Red Bulls opened their defense of last season’s Supporters’ Shield by putting up zero offense in their first two matches of 2016.
Last year’s regular-season MLS champs finally got back on the scoresheet and into the win column on Saturday night, with Felipe netting two late goals to steal a wildly sloppy and chance-filled 4-3 victory over the Houston Dynamo at Red Bull Arena.
“We almost needed a performance like that to bring some life back into our team,” coach Jesse Marsch said. “The second half, it wasn’t even a soccer game. It was like a brawl.
“I think it’s what we needed and I think this is the kind of game that can define a season.”
Marsch’s club had been blanked by a 5-0 aggregate in losses the previous two weekends against Toronto and Montreal, and he thought his team played “nervy and a bit scared of making mistakes” in Saturday’s first half.
But the return of Argentinian midfielder/striker Gonzalo Veron from a preseason hamstring injury appeared to instantly boost the limp attack, at least until he was removed following a collision in the 30th minute.
Starting center backs Gideon Baah and Ronald Zubar also departed with hamstring injuries for the Red Bulls, leaving Marsch unable to make any subs after the 54-minute mark.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan had netted the club’s first goal of the season in the 23rd minute, but Houston took advantage of multiple misplays by Red
Bulls defenders — namely Kemar Lawrence and Zubar, respectively — for two Will Bruin goals against goalkeeper Luis Robles and a 2-1 deficit before halftime.
“We know we are going to score goals,” captain Dax McCarty said. “But the defending side has to get better.”
Mike Grella and Houston’s Alex traded second-half scores two minutes apart for a 3-2 game. But after the Red Bulls, seeking the equalizer, mounted several minutes of pressure, defensive midfielder Felipe ripped an arcing right-footed shot past Houston keeper Joe Willis in the 78th minute.
Six minutes later, Felipe struck again after asking Kljestan if he could take a free kick from just outside the box and bending the ball around the defensive wall to ensure the Red Bulls avoided the franchise’s first 0-3 start since 1998.
“I told them I was feeling it and I’m going to score and I’m so happy,” Felipe said. “It was very important for the team to get this win.”