Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union was out of place for the New York Red Bulls. It’s not that they took home a point. The team is undefeated through four games including two over New York City FC. What felt off was that this sort of game would have been perfect in the middle of the summer.
Winning a single point right now after being down a goal is a gritty performance under normal circumstances. Omir Fernandez’s second half goal that sent Philly keeper Andre Blake diving was a shot in the arm. But with eight games left and the team out of the playoffs by eight points that shot needed to awaken something else. Instead it doesn’t feel like win or a loss, it just feels like nothing.
“The result in the end makes me a little unhappy,” said head coach Gerhard Struber after the match. “I think today we (played) in a good direction especially in the second half… Today we were not sharp enough to win in the end, to create three points, and the result makes me and the whole team unhappy.”
It kind of fits that earlier in the day the U.S. Men’s National Team announced which players it would be using for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers in October. For yet another window no current RBNY players got called up. The only connection to Harrison playing against Jamaica, Panama, and Costa Rica will be Bundesliga star Tyler Adams. It’s another symbol for where the team is right now.
Players like Kyle Duncan looked far removed from last year when they seemed ready for the national team. The local has almost regressed. The former full field player now looks more content working just the backline and midfield in average ways. Caden Clark was on the bench the whole match. Frankie Amaya, who was one negative COVID test away from playing for the USMNT, was only got in 16 minutes. The latter was part of a valiant effort to score a game winner but it still feels like a huge downgrade for someone who cost a one million dollars at the start of 2021.
Going back to last night Philadelphia started the game way too comfortable with the ball. The 3-6-1 formation did little to hinder Philadelphia getting into the RBNY end. However, there were few clear shots on net. Philly was great at pinning the backline though and kept earning corner kicks. The only goal the visitors scored came off one of them in the 17th minute when Sergio Santos tapped in a loose ball past Carlos Coronel. It wasn’t even pretty but it fits with how New York has been getting scored on this year.
It wasn’t anything new for Santos even who scored a late equalizer against New York earlier this summer in another 1-1 draw.
Not everything was disappointing though. Coronel had one of his best performances of the season and the one goal doesn’t hurt that. He made a huge save in the 36th minute that probably would have put the game away. Instead he stopped it and play continued allowing Fernandez’s equalizer to come less than a minute later. While his save total in general was low and most of the Union’s shots were not on goal, 0.5 points are directly because of the Brazilian.
It’s almost insulting that only 18% of the Audi Man of the Match votes went to him. He deserved at least a quarter of the total.
But it’s hard to argue that Fernandez didn’t deserve the honor. The Bronx native has scored in three of the last four games. While Patryk Klimala has been adjusting into a lone striker role and scored two goals of his own in the last six matches (though one was a penalty kick), the local midfielder is styling right now.
“I’m not the biggest guy on the field,” Fernandez said after the match. “I score most of my goals in the area. I’m just trying to play to my strengths. Trying to be a little more quicker than the defender, trying to get in front of him or (get) the first step. I think I’m just trying to see ahead.”
He went on to say that he could have been more clinical against the Union but that’s also been a running trend this season. The connection between the midfield and forwards has not been smooth and that means more goals are coming from the second line players. Instead it should be the forwards getting shots and the midfielders picking up the rebounds. While he could be more clinical at the end of the day it should not come down to him.
It was never going to be easy once Philly started bunkering down in the second half. The initial idea to use Fernandez and Cristian Casseres behind Klimala got the team into the final stretch but could not finish with it. Struber bringing in Wikelman Carmona to work with Fernandez and Klimala was a valiant effort but the game fell into a back and forth. The momentum never really swung for the home side albeit for a few small stretches. The Red Bulls closed the game looking good while Philadelphia looked keen the leave with a point. The Union know the playoffs await and one point can make a huge difference in seeding.
The group hits the road this weekend to visit Wooden Spoon contenders FC Cincinnati at their shiny and new West End Stadium. After that the team will be home for a two week stretch against Inter Miami and NYCFC. If the team wants any chance of making the postseason it needs at least seven points from this stretch. Wins against Cincy and Miami need to happen. Anything but a loss against City in the final Hudson River Derby of the year would be acceptable.