The expectation was simple: the team wins at home. Red Bull Arena is a fortress, built on clean sheets and comeback wins. The team looked oh-so-awesome in the Parley kits made from recycled ocean plastics with the blue numbers for their annual Autism Awareness Night. The weather was great, the crowd was hopping.
The New York Red Bulls (3-3-0) fell for the first time at their home pitch to the Chicago Fire (2-3-1). I had expected a view to a kill. All I got was a bittersweet symphony.
FACE TO FACE: Let me be clear: I love Dax McCarty; I do not miss Dax McCarty. He was out there doing what he did for the Red Bulls, *to* the Red Bulls. And that’s understandable- that’s his job. And I have to point out there were moments where homegrown players Sean Davis and Tyler Adams did that same job just as well, if not better.
TO FATAL SOUNDS OF BROKEN DREAMS: Damn, Daniel.
I’m serious. Daniel Royer finally… FINALLY!… finds the back of the net in the match, only to have it called back because Derrick Etienne was ruled offside. You don’t need to be an expert lip reader to know what Royer’s response was… especially when he had cause to say it more than once.
Meanwhile, the Fire took their chances, few and far between as they were. A ridiculous rebound off a defended corner (Aleksandar Katai, 30’) and a penalty kick brought on by a moment’s panic (Nemanja Nikolic, 69’).
THE FATAL KISS IS ALL WE NEED: Eleven shots in each half, but with a single goal to show for it (Wright-Phillips, 81’). Murillo attempted a shot on a free kick that sailed wide. Misses from Kaku, Florian Valot, and Tyler Adams. Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez was credited with 9 saves, the majority of which came right to him. Once again, the team dominated the clock, the ball, the field, and the goal frame, but the goals are what matter. The team couldn’t get enough of those.
(Okay, so I know I said I’d pick songs from this century… but if you can’t get behind Duran Duran or Bond theme songs, we can’t be friends.)
“They say that these are not the best of times,
They’re the only times I’ve ever known.” –Billy Joel, “Summer, Highland Falls”
I dare you to fight me on my musical choices.
Originally, I was tasked with writing a “Know Your Enemy” style of article before the first leg. But I couldn’t do it. Because there’s not much I have to say: Toronto FC are the beasts of the East. Supporter Shield winners with a record number of points in League history. They have Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco. TFC is top seed, coming into the playoffs well rested and ready to go.
But the New York Red Bulls have Luis Robles, Danny Royer, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. And they have the momentum of defeating the Chicago Fire in the knockout round. Head coach Jesse Marsch has said RBNY is “going on a run”. The first leg was the true test of that statement.
I’m not gonna lie: I was nervous for the team. The second I got into my car to make the drive to Red Bull Arena, I was hit with a wave of nausea, and I’m not talking about the fumes on the Turnpike. RBNY were able to prove that they can avoid the mental errors and the devastating injuries that plagued them during the regular season. They really looked like a team that is just having fun together and not wearing themselves out mentally. They’re really in the driver’s seat, especially at home in the the first leg.
And when I think about it that way, holding TFC to two goals is pretty impressive.
And also really freaking horrible.
Let me tell you a little something about myself: I tell people that I’m not the least bit competitive. It’s a bold face lie. I’m actually super competitive. I don’t even like admitting it about myself. So losing hurts, and I’m not even the one out there letting myself get pinged in the face with a ball or stomped with some $300 cleats.
You can see the rundown of the game anywhere. You can watch Victor Vazquez nail the rebound after Luis Robles punched away the initial shot from Jozy Altidore:
It felt like I was watching a different team than I had seen in the past month or so. One that didn’t know how to face down a terrible opponent. A team that didn’t want the responsibility of dominating possession and demanding rewards for it. Players who panicked in the face of danger. Men who were ripped apart and had no one to blame but themselves (or each other). A subdued locker room like I had never seen before.
And “I can only stand apart and sympathize”. I’ve been to press conferences following losses during the season. This was nothing like those times. “We didn’t look like ourselves,” head coach Jesse Marsch said following the game. This was echoed by Captain Sacha Kljestan: “I don’t think we played like us.”
Can RBNY right the ship? They have to remind themselves of who they are, more than any fan or writer could ever do. They have to play like they have nothing to lose. They have to give themselves and each other the tools and the guidance to face TFC head on. They need to be a team. And I hope one of them sees this and embraces it. Because I have no problem being a PollyAnna about RBNY: that’s why I’m here. Maybe they need to take that kind of unbridled positivity to heart. Because the whole point of the playoffs is for an underdog to look at an opponent with a winning record and laugh it away in a brief series… just ask the Houston Astros.
“For we are always what our situations hand us… It’s either sadness or euphoria.”
PS: Let me take a minute to comment on the vitriol directed towards TFC players Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Both are referred to as “Metro Products”, having been part of the MetroStars when they and MLS were younger. They were booed Every. Time. They. Touched. The. Ball. They were treated similarly in Atlanta on Decision Day. They will likely be treated that way if they continue in the Playoffs.
They will definitely be treated that way when they return to hostile fields across America next season. They know why it’s happening. They can handle it. And I condone it. I just wonder how long it will last or what, if anything, it will take to quiet it. And I draw the line at cursing… but that’s just my own sensibilities at play.
The New York Red Bulls (5-3-1, 16 points) faced a revitalized Chicago Fire (3-3-2, 11 points) at a well-attended Autism Awareness Night, amid discussion about supporter’s group sanctions, continued injuries, a legendary Designated Player (Bastian Schweinsteiger, World Cup and Bundesliga champion), and the return of previous RBNY captain Dax McCarty.
I still remember the moment I learned McCarty had been traded to the Chicago Fire.
An English teacher by trade, I treasure that Dead Poets Society reference. So I cleared my schedule when I learned the date of McCarty’s return to Red Bull Arena. There were many posters and signs for “The Ginger Ninja,” and he was up to the task of bringing the excitement that made him a fan favorite in RBA. But it was the home team who struck first: Striker Bradley Wright-Phillips scored off a cross from Dani Royer (37’) and brought the crowd to their feet. BWP’s 73rd career goal, he just keeps building his resume as a future all-time club legend.
As expected, Schweinsteiger was a force to be reckoned with, even after a head-to-head collision with defender Damien Perrinelle left them both bleeding and momentarily out of the game. But it was the interaction with midfielder Felipe that made a lasting impact. Head referee Hilario Grajeda had to pull them both aside in the first half, ultimately issuing a yellow card to Felipe in the 81st minute.
While Goalkeeper Luis Robles made 4 huge saves, his most recent run of clean sheets ran out in the 59th minute with a strike from Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic, with the assist from—who else?—Dax McCarty. Though Robles argued a missed foul by David Accam, there was nothing to be done except applaud RBNY’s former hero and charge on.
RBNY Designated Player Gonzalo Veron, in his first appearance since he was sidelined by injury, came on for Alex Muyl in the 65th minute and tried to make his presence known, a welcome sight for many fans. But it was defenders Kemar Lawrence and Damien Perrinelle who had the breakthrough moment, with Lawrence scoring his first RBNY goal this season in the 71st minute. The home team was able to hold on for the remainder of the game, including 5 minutes of stoppage time to give them all 9 points in their run of home games this month.
And although it was a bitter pill to swallow, Dax McCarty returned the love he had been given by remaining on the field long after the final whistle, signing autographs and taking selfies as if he was home. And in a way, he still was.
I have 4 kids, not to mention a family that traditionally goes big for this holiday.
So I couldn’t go to iconic Red Bull Arena for the latest installment of the Atlantic Cup.
And I wasn’t the only one with this problem.
When #RBNY fans hear their friends and family aren't going to the game…
But thanks to the miracle of modern soccer broadcasting, the game was available in the comfort of my (parents’) home.
The New York Red Bulls (3-3-1) began a welcome run of home games with their first meeting against DC United (2-3-1) for this season. RBNY stumbled at the beginning of the season, albeit an improvement from the slow start in 2016, and injuries plague the team (Mike Grella and Gonzalo Veron are still on the Injured list), but they have been determined to turn things around.
And try they did. The Red Bulls dominated the first 45 minutes of play, keeping the ball in the attacking third. They had plenty of set pieces (plays that re-start action, such as corner and free kicks), which have become their signature goal-scoring plays. But they just couldn’t finish. DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid made some great saves during the first half, but RBNY just kept knocking at the door…
It took until the 1st minute of the second half to finally make a breakthrough. Sacha Kljestan, wearing the captain’s armband emblazoned with the logos of the three official supporter’s groups for the club, found the head of Alex Muyl on a corner kick and suddenly it was 1-0 for the home team. The team was able to relax a bit with the lead, and even though it resulted in more time in the defensive end of the field, the confidence was noticeably higher. Then in the 80th minute, thanks to a perfectly-placed pass from Felipe Martins, lead goal scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips nutmegged Hamid, sending a shot between his legs and doubling the lead. Red Bull GK Luis Robles, known as the Ironman, made some great saves to maintain the clean sheet at home.
A rivalry is always a great place to find even more than the usual physicality on the field, and this match was no exception. The head referee’s book was opened plenty, with a total of 5 yellow cards issued between the two teams. There were plenty of tackles and 1v1 plays, and players could be found on the ground nursing a sore shin or knee following these plays. Unfortunately, DC’s Steve Birnbaum had to be stretchered off the field in stoppage time following a head-to-head clash with RB defender Damien Perrinelle, and hopefully he is well. Also, it was nice to see Lloyd Sam again, who was traded to DC United last season. I always hope he does well… unless he’s playing against the Red Bulls.
This coming weekend is not a holiday weekend.
I hope I can make it to the game.
And I hope plenty of others can make it as well.