In only seven minutes a game can go from seeming all-to-typical into a statement win. That’s what happened on Saturday night when the New York Red Bulls defeated Real Salt Lake, 4-0, in former RBNY head coach Mike Petke’s first return to Harrison since he was fired from the club in 2015 as the then-most successful coach in team history.
Three separate Red Bull players and one from RSL all put the ball in the back of the visiting net during the second half. The win marks New York’s fourth in five games and biggest win so far this year in all competitions.
Following the match, Red Bulls’ current head coach Chris Armas emphasized that this kind of win does a lot for a team’s confidence. He alluded to the team’s 10-man win over Atlanta United FC two weeks ago as a critical moment for the group’s recent success.
“This team is a real team and they stick together and they play for each other, they run for each other, and this has been building,” Armas said in the post-game press conference. “I mentioned it recently (that) the Atlanta game was a starting point, it was a result of guys putting in a lot… Now you see a team that we think looks much like us to start the game and control the game in the ways that we wanted to.”
“I think we all know goals do a lot for a team, they do a lot for the belief that you can play a little freer, confidence grows,” he continued. “That’s a lot of fun to watch. It does a lot for the team.”
While the win and three points in an ever-continuing rebound from the season’s start is the key factor from the game, two familiar faces played a undeniable role on Saturday night. The aforementioned Petke, still much beloved by the RBNY supporters even after five years separated from his tenure with the team, and the return of former head coach Jesse Marsch who appeared in the crowd during the match as well. Marsch, who left the club in the middle of last season as the all-time winningest coach in club history, currently serves as the assistant coach on the Red Bulls’ German affiliated team RB Leipzig.
Despite this, Petke says that the time he spends in New York has pushed aside tonight besides a short walk over to the Supporters Section following the match.
“The chapter’s been closed according to me (but) with the supporters it’s never going to be closed,” Petke said in a post-game press conference. “It was great to see them and I was honored that they didn’t boo me and had some nice things to say. I’ve said it numerous time they’re always going to be in my heart and I’m always going to have a good relationship with them.”
He acknowledged that team and structure of the Red Bulls global soccer organization has changed how they’ve played the game from the time that he left up until today, and he has a lot of respect for it. But the match on Saturday was just that, a match.
For his part, along with his team, team captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles earned his 107th league win and is now tied with journeyman Scott Garlick for seventh all-time in Major League Soccer history.
The standout of the game for New York turned out to be a piece of the changing structure; leading goal scorer Danny Royer. In the first half, the Austrian star put half of his four shots on target while also breaking up a few offensive chances Salt Lake brought against his eleven’s back-line. Eventually, in the second half, he was finally able to break through with a goal of his own with his team’s second in the 59th minute. Only a minute removed from his team taking the lead off a Marcelo Silva own-goal, Kaku played the ball to an on-side Royer who beat the advancing Nick Rimando with a low shot to the right side of the net.
“I think I don’t even yelled at (Kaku) or anything,” Royer said after the game trying to explain the goal. “I just saw him catching the ball, turning, and I know he is lethal with his passes and that he is looking for me and it was a great pass to the run so I could have a one v. one with the goalie.”
On his little celebration dance after the goal, Royer joking told the media the origin of that stays within the team.
— Rudy Seferin (@RSeferin) June 2, 2019
Speaking on his teammates growing success not only this season but during his tenure with the club, Robles told the media after the game that Royer picking up the pace showed what kind of player he was. Despite being without the team’s all-time leading goal scorer in Bradley Wright-Phillips for multiple weeks, and possible multiple more, he and others like Brian White have been taking the mantle in the front part of the attack with three goals each this season.
“(The game against) Atlanta is the one that sticks out when we’re down a man and he had to put in a shift defensively, he’s been great. When we bought him I’m not even sure (what) his high for goals in a season. Yet they brought him in and said ‘we need you to be our second scorer,’ and he’s been brilliant.”
For reference, Royer’s best goal output prior to joining RBNY in 2016 was six which he accomplished twice during his time in the Austrian football system; once in 2009-10 with FC Pasching (now FC Juniors OÖ) and again in 2013-14 with FK Austria Wien. The past two seasons he’s nearly doubled this tally and with three so far this year its possible he reaches that mark yet again.
Despite not being the better team in the first half Salt Lake had moments to capitalize, especially on counter attacks and on long passes. Petke told the media this was how he wanted his team to come out against a team like New York. The Red Bulls are typically a second-half team, which would explain not only the goals later on but also coaches have set plans for the first 45.
“The first half was exactly how we wanted to play it with a couple of exceptions,” Petke said. “Our organization was good, our structure was good… We had about four to five good transition opportunities that were a bit sloppy, they were things that we talked about yesterday.”
“Coming out of the second half it was a completely different game,” he continued. “Our organization and structure was off . We left too many holes and gaps. Three of the four goals came down our left side due to either miscommunication or positioning of certain players. Against a team like this if you’re not structured right they’re gonna make you pay and they did, three goals in seven minutes.”
The remaining two goals came from Michael Murillo in the 64th minute, capping off that seven minute scoring spree for RBNY with his first goal of the season, and Omir Fernandez in the 83rd, his second in as many games for the team in league play. Murillo also became the sixteenth unique goal scorer for his team this season in MLS.
Speaking on Fernandez, Royer told the media after the game that so many of the young players this season have been critical towards the team success all while they are still growing.
“Omir is a huge talent and I think he showed that the entire season,” he said. “For a young player it’s always a process, you always have to grow into a role, he’s doing a good job… (All the young players) are stepping up, they’re all doing great and they’re all hard workers.”
The team has the rest of the week off before it heads down the Northeast Corridor and takes on the Philadelphia Union this Saturday at Talon Energy Stadium.
The current top team in the Eastern Conference has put up a record of 2-1-2 in its last five games including a 3-1 loss to the visiting Portland Timbers on May 25 a week after drawing, 0-0, against the Seattle Sounders FC at home as well.