The New York Red Bulls won a game. That alone is cause for celebration after a seven-game winless run.
With a game-day roster filled with returning faces, it is an uneasy time for fans to consider getting excited.
The new lineup formation worked against a similarly struggling Columbus Crew SC. The defending MLS Cup champions have now lost five straight, including Wednesday. A defense-heavy lineup kept the visitors to only nine shots (three on target) at Red Bull Arena, something RBNY has struggled to do as of late.
Six natural defenders and Sean Nealis playing an in-between role was a drastic but interesting choice for Gerhard Struber. The 3-4-1-2 (3-5-1) formation allowed some like John Tolkin and Andrew Gutman a chance to play further up. That, in turn, opened up Tolkin to score the game-winning goal midway through the second half. The way it worked out was even surprising to Struber, who told the media after the match that the young defender’s reorientation in spaces and technical skills will be crucial in the future.
The goal even surprised Tolkin himself. Even with Gutman out with injuries, the New Jersey native has had a quiet season in 2021.
The goal is his first since joining Major League Soccer after 15 appearances.
“To be honest, I thought why not take a gamble,” he said after the win. “I barely ever get forward like this, so I’ll take a shot.”
The latest makeshift lineups, along with a healthy set of center backs available for the first time in over a month, brought success. Wednesday’s win shows Struber can develop with changing lines. He has shown this in Austria and Germany, but he needs the parts to do it in the end.
Even with Tom Edwards out on suspension due to yellow card accumulation, enough healthy options were available to replace him. This was not a night where the man in charge only made three substitutes because he knew his bench wasn’t deep enough. A second-half showing from Caden Clark, Daniel Royer, and Mandela Egbo proved that.
For the first time in a while, the team looked confident throughout the match. Sure, against the New England Revolution and FC Cincinnati, the players had good first halves but come the final 45, RBNY looked more like a group trying to reach the locker room.
The XI on the field wasn’t built right, was missing parts, and had players overextending themselves.
Players like Amro Tarek, Kyle Duncan, and even Tolkin, who seemed to be falling off during the summer slump, looked good here.
Meanwhile, on offense, the two starting strikers looked dangerous as well. Of the team’s 15 shots, seven came from Patryk Klimala and Fábio. In the final half-hour, Tom Barlow didn’t have any shots, but he played around the Columbus backline showing he and the team weren’t playing for just a one-goal win.
It is too early to believe this is a full-on turnaround fully. However, New York has a great chance to prove the win was not a fluke this coming Saturday.
Hosting the first leg of the Hudson River Derby against New York City FC on national television is a perfect test.
“It’s a good feeling right now but let’s not get comfortable at all, ” Davis told media via Zoom. “The most important game is on Saturday, and it’s going to be an absolute war.”
Win against your biggest rival on the national stage during Heineken Rivalry Week. City is currently third in the Eastern Conference and have only lost one of their last seven games.
A win against them would put the Bulls in 8th place in the Conference, one spot out of playoff contention.
Featured Image: New York Red Bulls