It’s the mix of playing down to the competition and having genuine bad luck. The great depth of talent but messy mistakes early on. The solid win followed by a mixed result.
That’s the best way to describe the New York Red Bulls after the team drew against the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-2, on Wednesday night before beating FC Cincinnati on the road, 2-0, on Saturday.
The results now mean New York has swept the season series against Cincinnati by a total scoreline of 3-0 while also meaning the squad is 0-1-1 against the team’s from north of the border this year.
The week as a whole bared a staggering resemblance to the first week in May, when the team beat LA Galaxy in a gutsy comeback performance, before losing against the Montreal Impact on short rest at home and following it up with a second-half win against FC Dallas on the road the following weekend. All the factors lined up once again; big comeback win against a non-traditional rival, surprise stumble against a Canadian team, and a win on the road with the winning performance coming in the last 45 minutes.
“It’s easy to get up for those (kind of) games,” RBNY team captain Luis Robles said after the Vancouver game on Wednesday night. “Atlanta, LA Galaxy, big-time teams on the weekend. It’s a lot harder mentality to regroup and do it again midweek. That’s part of the learning process… there’s not a ton of guys who really understand what’s required to get results midweek because it really is about the mentality, it really is about how you approach the game and how your able to regroup in under 72 hours and do it again.”
That short rest and follow-up to Sunday’s big Atlanta win may have been a big factor in the team’s draw with Vancouver, which saw New York go down within the first thirty minutes and give up a penalty kick during the last half hour to even the score.
To be fair, the first half seemed like better football was coming from the RBNY side. The squad was holding the ball nearly 70% of the time and was putting up nearly triple the amount of shots as their Canadian foe (11 to 4). But those chances weren’t on target a majority of the time and holding the ball doesn’t win games.
After a few skied chances kept the score at zero, Vancouver’s Scott Sutter capitalized off a Sean Nealis error in the back that allowed Joaquin Ardaiz to feed Sutter at a difficult angle on the right side of the net. The shot slammed to the far post and gave the visitors a lead in the 29th minute.
“In the first half we definitely had them on their heels a little bit and the more goals we put in early the more chance we have to win the game,” Brian White said after the match on Wednesday.
In the end, White was the small piece for the two goals his team scored during the 90 minutes. In the 36th, his slight redirect off a hard hit Amro Tarek header evened the score before his shot in the 55th hit off of Vancouver’s Andy Rose to give the latter the own goal and the former’s team a lead. But the lead didn’t last more than eight minutes once again as the RBNY defense committed a handball in the box, which, after a VAR review, allowed Fredy Montero to step up and equalize the score once again where it would stand for the rest of the game.
“I don’t think it’s a trap game but I think it’s a game we should win,” White said. “Especially at home and especially after the performance against Atlanta. I think we let ourselves down a little bit in not coming out with a win.”
White continued, mentioning that the team only had three days until its next contest against FC Cincinnati on the road and knows the group has to move on.
“It’s going to be a good game for us,” he said. “Their stadium is hard to play in, they get a lot of fans and it’s an away game after just playing now… it’ll be tough but we gotta get up for the challenge.”
The team’s next contest was its first trip to Cincinnati in MLS play and its second trip to Ohio this season. The last time New York played at Nippert Stadium was in the semifinal the 2017 U.S. Open Cup against FC Cincinnati, then of the United Soccer League. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored the late equalizer and overtime winner to send RBNY to the final and deny FCC the chance to become to first non-MLS team to win the tournament this century.
Fast forward two years and now Cincinnati, now a member of Major League Soccer, have now lost seven of their last nine matches thanks to a set of late-game goals from the Red Bulls’ substitutes Kaku and Omir Fernandez, the latter of which scored his first ever goal in league play.
Cincy came into the game off a huge loss on the road to Orlando City SC, making the struggling side look like Barcelona with a huge five-goal win. Despite looking better overall and attacking for a majority of the game the team failed to avoid losing its second straight and dropping its record to 3-8-2.
For the visitors, Robles’ performance was one of the major reasons the team didn’t fall behind early in the game. Four big saves, including one in the first seven minutes of the game when Fanendo Adi had him on a one-on-one attempt off a throw-in, on 12 total shots showed why he is one of the best players on this team. The win notched the captain with his 66th career league shutout, eighth most in MLS history behind New England legend Matt Reis’ and trailing others such as Nick Rimando and Kevin Hartman.
Head coach Chris Armas knows that while others needed to put the team on the board, Robles was an instrumental piece to the puzzle on Saturday night.
“I just said to him on my way out of the locker room, ‘Another night where you just you come up big, you stand tall,’” Armas said after the game. “The way we play, we get beat at moments behind and he seems to be in the right spots right now and he was locked in. So, to see him make some big saves, it’s a game changer for sure. It’s another game that he has won it for us.”
It’s hard not to worry though since a struggling expansion side pushed RBNY to the near limit for the second time this season. FCC only lost at Red Bull Arena by one goal after dominating the second half of play back on April 27. The Lions taking the field at home on Saturday were missing components and were forced to make recalls on loans and put out young debuting players such as Nazmi Albadawi who was subbed on with his team trailing in the 81st. In fact, it has been reported the 18 players Yoann Damet has dressed on the sideline were the only options available at all.
Robles being the biggest factor against a team such as that is a sign of worry while also being a credit to the captains continued presence. Nevertheless, that constant presence in net allowed his team to stay in the game and that paid off in the 78th minute when a defensive error by FCC’s Mathieu Deplagne allowed Kaku to swipe the ball away from his feet and beat keeper Spencer Richey on the break to put his team up.
Looking to avoid another heartbreaking draw Brian White brought the ball down the right side of the box still on the attack. Only a few minutes removed from skying the game clincher over the crossbar, White instead crossed the ball in the air low towards Fernandez who headed in the goal on the left side of the net past a diving Richey.
New York now has the chance to rest before it returns home to face Real Salt Lake on Saturday, June 1st.
The team will also soon learn who it will face next week in the Fourth Round of the U.S. Open Cup Tournament after this week’s midweek games conclude between USL Championship and lower league sides.