For 87 of the 90 minutes in their opening match at the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, the New York Red Bulls were the dominant team. Real Salt Lake caught them sleeping at the beginning of the match, though, and all it took was three minutes for Real’s young Ecuadorian attacker Joao Plata to wreak enough havoc to handicap his team’s way to a draw.
Plata nabbed Real’s first goal less than a minute into the contest. Pouncing on a loose ball after a defensive breakdown by the Red Bulls back line, Plata coolly punched it past New York goalkeeper Santiago Castano for the lead. Two minutes later, Plata struck a shot that Castano parried directly into the path of midfielder Cole Grossman, and the Missourian made no mistake doubling the lead into the open net.
The 2-0 deficit seemed to resuscitate the faltering Red Bulls roster from the back end through the forward line, as they tightened up defensively and pressed offensively. Almost immediately they were finding space and putting pressure on Salt Lake’s goal. Former LA Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders, playing on a preseason trial basis with Real, was forced to work by defender Brandon Barklage in the 10th minute and winger Lloyd Sam a few minutes later.
At the half-hour mark New York’s pressure paid off. Earning a corner, Juninho swung the kick into the box. Among the chaos the ball fell to the feet of Colombian defender Jamison Olave, who pulled one back for the Red Bulls with a surgical finish. They nearly had the equalizer five minutes from the break, but Tim Cahill’s header pinged off the crossbar and kept New York down 2-1 at the intermission.
Coming out for the second half, New York fielded eight new players and continued hunting for the tying goal. Michael Bustamante, the rookie trialist from Boston University, broke through for the Red Bulls in the 61st minute. Collecting Roy Miller’s cross from the left wing, Bustamante fired home the goal that would decide the final result.
The draw leaves both teams chasing the Sounders in the round-robin Desert Diamond Cup tournament standings after Seattle knocked off the New England Revolution 2-0 in the early match. Real Salt Lake gets the first crack at the Sounders on Saturday, while the Red Bulls take on New England in the later contest.