Tyler Ruthven called the Red Bulls' streak of three straight 1-0 victories ''surreal'' after their decision over the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night.
And he may have had a point.
Ruthven, one of the young, inexperienced defenders called into action when a rash of injuries hit the Red Bulls three games ago, was part of a rebuilt back line that has helped goalkeeper Ryan Meara shut down the New England Revolution, the powerful Los Angeles Galaxy and the Dynamo.
Kenny Cooper's goal in the seventh minute gave the Red Bulls (6-3-1) all the scoring they needed. After that, it was all defense as the Red Bulls mostly let the action come to them. The injured list included the team's top scorer, Thierry Henry, along with midfielders Rafa Marquez (sprained left ankle) and Teemu Tainio (sprained right knee), and defender Stephen Keel (back strain).
''The last two weeks have been the craziest of my life,'' Ruthven said. ''People were expecting us to get routed, so this is surreal.''
After Cooper scored his eighth goal of the season when he lost the ball inside the box, then beat goaltender Tally Hall to it for a tap-in, the Red Bulls fell into a defensive shell. With midfielder Dax McCarty keeping them together and Meara commanding from the goalmouth, the Red Bulls played tight, systematic defense.
''You see the last three games and you can tell we've kept it tight,'' Swedish defender Markus Holgersson said. ''I can't say I'm surprised at this. Because of all the injuries, we've gotten tighter as a team.''
Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said he had little choice but to play this game the way he did. The winners launched few attacks so as not to stretch out their personnel and allow threatening runs. Instead, they inched the ball up the field in the first half. They had just three shots in the first half.
They did turn up the pressure in the second half after Juan Agudelo replaced Mehdi Ballouchy up front, and recorded nine shots.
But it was Meara that was put to the test in the final minutes. After two quick shots in the 81st and 82nd minutes from Colin Clark and Brad Davis flew high, Meara had to make what amounted to a double save in stoppage time.
Placed in the middle of a scrum in close, Meara batted the ball up, and then had to bat it a second time a split second before it veered into the goal.
''It was hit pretty hard and I had a little trouble with it,'' Meara said.
Cooper's goal put him one behind team leader Henry, and equaled his season's goal total with Portland last season.
''I'm impressed with these guys,'' Backe said. ''Three clean sheets with inexperienced guys. We didn't create that much attacking-wise. We had a lot of giveaways, unforced errors, no rhythm, but sometimes you just need to step up.''
Houston dropped to 2-3-2. The Dynamo ended a seven-game trip as they prepare to open their new stadium Saturday against D.C. United.
''It's frustrating because we're beating ourselves,'' Hall said. I don't think many teams can beat us. It's hard to hold onto a 1-0 lead for so long and they did it, so you have to give them credit. But at the same time, we're a better team than to lose that game.''