Ah, Spring. When young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of MLS. At least, we hope so. It was still rather chilly, but a bright sunny afternoon welcomed fans old and new to Red Bull Arena. The home match against the San Jose Earthquakes happens every other year, and new Quakes coach Matias Almeyda is looking to bring his team into the playoff conversation.
You know I’m a dreamer: This is already Matchday 3. The season is well on its way, with all its narratives being formed and tweaked. The Red Bulls have lived and learned with two home games in their latest attempt at the CONCACAF Champions League. But the league home opener is a special moment. A halftime ceremony celebrated the 2018 Supporter’s Shield, as well as the team’s previous two, which are all immortalized on the building itself. Recently retired former Red Bull Mike Grella was invited to hold up the 2015 Shield at the ceremony. Confetti-filled posters of the players from Decision Day 2018 were distributed to fans following the match.
Sometimes nothing keeps me together: The game itself didn’t look so good at the start. The Red Bulls were unsettled throughout the first half. The high press Red Bull thrives on was keeping them on the attack, but no one could find the back of the net. At the same time, the Earthquakes looked threatening after every turnover. Just five minutes into the match, Christian Espinoza sent a low shot past Luis Robles. Then, around the thirty-minute mark, a rough challenge sent midfielder Florian Valot to ground. With a scream. And anyone who saw and heard knew. The player who lost most of last season to a tear in his left ACL confirmed a few days after the game that he tore his right ACL. He bounced back once, and fans are confident he can do it again.
I’m on my way: In the 34th minute, homegrown Alex Muyl entered the pitch for Valot. While he had two off-target shots leading up to the halftime whistle, it was clear he was knocking on the door. But that happens a lot, and not just to Muyl. The entire first half was rife with missed opportunities. Kyle Duncan, who had done great work in the back line until the game against San Jose, scrambled for the first half but finally found his bearings in the second. It was time for RBNY to show what they were made of.
Just set me free: If you’re reading this, and you didn’t come to the game because some other commitment was going to have you missing the first half, let me tell you right now: the second half alone was worth the price of admission. Not one, but two goals from Alex Muyl, the first goal of the season for striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, and the final dagger from Daniel Royer.
Take me to your heart: Almost as soon as Wright-Phillips scored, he was substituted. In his place came Mathias Jorgensen, the eighteen-year-old Danish international who was the marquee signing of the Red Bulls’ off-season. And while he didn’t score a hat-trick right out of the gate, coach Chris Armas was happy with what he saw: “He almost scored. It’s right there for him.”
Whether he starts the next match, replaces Wright-Phillips earlier, or plays alongside him remains to be seen. But like many of the players on the roster, it’s about more than what fans see on gameday. “But if you got to know him a little bit the way we do, what a humble, hard-working team guy, and he fought hard, even in a few minutes,” Armas said. This is clearly the identity of the RBNY player, which belies the “villains of MLS” perception that other teams would like to foist upon them.
Enjoying back-to-back home games, the Red Bulls face former teammate Sacha Kljestan and Orlando City SC on Saturday.
The New York Red Bulls traveled to Columbus and MAPFRE Stadium to begin the MLS season against the Crew. They last met in the 2018 playoffs, where the Red Bulls overcame a 1-0 deficit to advance. But with a new season comes new possibilities. With the Crew safe and sound in Columbus, and with Caleb Porter at the helm, are we going to see a huge change?
Racing Through My Brain: With a much shorter turnaround between rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League than I remember there being last year, the team had to look further down the roster. And there they found a bunch of comeback kids: Kyle Duncan, Florian Valot, and Vince Bezecourt. All three of them had season-ending injuries last year (what is with those knee ligaments?!) and were ready to start again. Bezecourt and Valot went the full 90; Duncan made way for draft pick Sean Nealis.
And I Just Can’t Contain: Fresh off his very first goal for the first team just three days prior, Andreas Ivan scored his very first MLS goal (6′). Valot crossed the ball to him and he headed it home. Fans may have been wondering before this past week if Ivan was going to be an asset or a liability for RBNY. He is quickly proving to be the former. Usual starters Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer have done great things for the Red Bulls, but they can’t stay on forever. Seeing players like Ivan and newcomer Mathias Jorgensen should reassure fans that a future transition will be seamless. (Let’s hope those transitions are far in the future, though!)
This Feeling That Remains: Sure would have been nice to start the season with a win. Crew midfielder Gaston Sauro changed that. His header off a set piece (41′) leveled the game moments before the half. And while there were a ton of fouls and a grand total of six yellow cards between the two sides, that scoreline remained the same until the final whistle. So at least it wasn’t a loss.
It’s back to Red Bull Arena for the first leg of the Champions League Quarterfinals this week, then a trip to Mexico for the second leg. The Red Bulls return to MLS play on Saturday, March 16, with their home opener against the San Jose Earthquakes.
I’m sick of blaming myself when the New York Red Bulls lose on the road. Over the years, I’ve done everything I can to make sure they win. I put on the lucky kind of underwear; I wear the team’s blue or gray shirt because the red shirt is for home games only, and I always turn the match on in time to watch from the beginning.
I show up for away matches. It would be nice for the Red Bulls to do the same.
Am I being too hard on them? Maybe. It’s not like Saturday’s match at Orlando City was the worst performance they’ve ever given in an away match. It is, however, another entry in the saga known as The New York Red Bulls and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Away Game Record.
JESSE CAME TO FIGHT
Despite everyone else being preoccupied with the upcoming match in Guadalajara against Chivas, you could see how Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch wanted to win in Orlando. Deciding to rest many regular starters — including Bradley Wright-Phillips, Tyler Adams, Daniel Royer, and Aaron Long — he made bold choices for his 4-2-3-1 lineup.
As this was only RBNY’s fourth regular season match, the lineup seemed a promising mix-up of the March 10th, Portland Timbers match. Carlos Rivas was sent to midfield with Alejandro Romero Gammara (a.k.a. Kaku), Florian Valot, while Derrick Etienne, Jr. was made the lone striker. Backing them up in the defensive midfield were Vincent Bezecourt and Marc Rzatkowski. For the back four, we saw familiar faces Connor Lade and Aurelien Collin on the left and center, respectively, and Tommy Redding and Kyle Duncan mirroring them on the right. Then, as always, team captain Luis Robles was in goal.
Now, this is the part where most writers would say, “The problem with untested lineups, though, is that they’re untested.” Well, my AP English Comp teacher taught us to never use clichés. And I also don’t think that this was the case.
Supporters of other MLS clubs like to rag on the Red Bulls for being owned by an energy drink. What many fail to realize is how the club’s corporate overloads have helped make Red Bull soccer the deepest well in town. For instance, Toronto FC, also in the CONCACAF semi-finals, plays Tuesday night after playing this past Friday. TFC has a second team — a good second team — but they still had to play their stars, Michael Bradly, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco. The Red Bulls had the luxury of having Bradley Wright-Phillips, Daniel Royer, and Tyler Adams on the bench. And Alex Muyl and Sean Davis didn’t even dress for the match.
The RBNY goals made in the second half can be credited to the players being well trained in Marsch’s system. Goal number one was a beautiful chipped cross from Kaku to Valot, who headed it in with the grace of a ballet dancer. It’s the type of goal we’ve seen with other Red Bull players — set up the goal somewhere around the 18-yard box, pass it to a player somewhere within the 6-yard, get the ball into the goal.
The only difference here was how great that cross from Kaku looked. (Seriously. Go back and watch it again and again and then again in slow-motion. Not only does he make the cross with his left foot, he’s also not looking! I’m flipping out over here!!! I mean, he didn’t even know who he was passing it to!!!!!!!)
RBNY’s second goal came in the 24th minute when Valot passed the ball to Etienne, who deflected it off Orlando keeper, Bendik, to get his first MLS goal. Even this goal was an echo of last week’s Bradley Wright-Phillips goal when Etienne outpaced the defender marking him to run with the ball and glide it into the net.
Too bad these goals and the one made in the second half by Aaron Long were all answered by Orlando.
IT’S ABOUT THE DEFENDING, STUPID.
You don’t get a 4-3 scoreline without defending being an issue for both sides. Each team had weak backlines who left key opposing players unmarked. The defending was so bad that the score could have been much higher.
The first RBNY came about because no one was marking Kaku (a mistake I’m sure few teams will duplicate in the future). A second goal seemed possible in the 11th minute if Bendik hadn’t come out to the middle of the 18-yard box to kick out the ball (and you can’t blame him for being literally hopping mad since it was him versus three undefended Red Bull players.)
Then a third RBNY goal was possible in the 31st minute; it only was disallowed because Rivas was so obviously offside that the sideline ref’s flag was up before Rivas kicked it into the goal (but, again, why was Rivas allowed to be there?)
As for the Orlando goals… Ugh. I guess I should talk about them, too. No matter how hard they are to re-watch.
Okay, the first Orlando goal is freaking infuriating I can’t even believe it. It makes me want to throw a chair Bobby Knight-style, the defending is so bad. Orlando brings the ball up to the RBNY box while hewing to the right side of the field. Redding and Duncan are keeping pace, eventually getting between the ball handler and the goal.
They’re giving too much space, though, because the ball is passed between them (!!!) by Sascha Kljestan to Justin Meram. Collin and Lade are running to get between Meram and Robles, who’s expecting Meram to shoot on goal when the cross is made to Will Johnson, who scores the goal because the goal is so wide open it might as well be a parking spot for a Humvee.
I’m going to skip the second Orlando goal. I’ll talk about it later.
Let’s talk, instead, about the third Orlando goal in the 48th minute. Kemar Lawrence (who was subbed in at halftime for Connor Lade) was watching the Orlando player throwing in the ball instead of Dom Dwyer, even though Dwyer was closest to Lawrence and also the closest player to the Red Bull goal. Now, maybe Lawrence expected the offside flag to come up when Dwyer broke off to get the ball.
I thought he was offside. But Lawrence, who is a professional soccer player, knows more about the sport than me, an aspiring Martha Stewart-esque craft maven. So, he should know that there is no offsides on throw-ins(!). The most infuriating thing is that he didn’t even try to catch up to him. That was left to Redding who — shocker — did not catch up in time to kick the ball out. Dwyer skidded it across the grass, just outside Robles’s reach, and into the net.
As for the fourth Orlando goal, well, it really looked to me like one of those right place, right time kind of goals. The RBNY defenders were all marking the people they were supposed to mark. Sometimes midfielders just score from outside the box and there’s no way to stop it. It’s worth noting, however, that the goal had a sharp assist from Kljestan. I’m telling you, go back and watch it just for his part. It really makes you sad that Marsch decided to send him to Carousel.
GRUMBLE GRUMBLE REF GRUMBLE GRUMBLE
For some reason RBNY and Orlando City have beef. I don’t know why. They’re not a team who always used to defeat us and is infested with raccoons. They’re not a team with supporters from a city notorious for having the worst fans ever. They’re also not a team who has to play on a crumby turf field that gets mangled for the second part of the season because they share it with a ‘cheating’ NFL team. And they’re not even a team who has to play in a baseball stadium because their oil-tycoon owner can’t find a place to build a soccer stadium.
When teams have beef, though, the game can get chippy. It takes a good ref to keep things in line. That’s not what happened here. There was a lot of uncalled fouls, players were getting injured, and a goal was allowed that shouldn’t have been a goal.
The goal — which should have been disallowed! — came in the 26th minute. Dom Dwyer scored a header off a corner kick… by pushing Robles into the goal.
And Jair Marrufo didn’t even go to VAR!!!!!
I can’t even. I mean, the Red Bulls messed up big time on a couple of the Orlando goals, but this was on the ref. It’s a good thing this is a family blog or otherwise, I would be typing a long, long sentence full of swear words. This is the kind of goal that makes me really dislike the game sometimes.
WHEN YOU BELIEVE IN THINGS YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND
A friend once told me superstitions are stupid if they work. What does it say about me, then, that I approach each away game hoping something I do will help RBNY win? Each game is won or lost by the team on the field. It’s not a special shirt or a ritual which will help the club win on the road. The only thing the Red Bulls need is a stronger backline and no amount of magical thinking is going to give them that.