NYCSportsNation
The New York Red Bulls warmup ahead of their match against Chicago Fire FC at Red Bull Arena (Credit: Michael Battista)
The New York Red Bulls warmup ahead of their match against Chicago Fire FC at Red Bull Arena (Credit: Michael Battista)

The New York Red Bulls are still winless at home. Wednesday night’s 3-3 draw against Chicago Fire FC had plenty of late game heroics but not the coveted three points the team wanted. The result does mean New York is only one point off Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia. Though they are also tied with four other teams for that spot as well.

Head coach Gerhard Struber didn’t hide the fact that he wasn’t happy with the result. Outside of the draw, allowing Chicago to score three goals and hold two leads against his team was frustrating. Especially coming off what he described as a good set of training sessions over the last week.

“A little bit disappointed feeling right now. Again, we cannot bring at home the right points. We expect today a win. We expect a victory, a very clear victory,” he said to media in the post-game press conference. “In the end, we (gave) Chicago a little bit (of) space and the belief to do something… I miss a little bit the sharpness, yeah, from the mental side to be ready for the victory.”

Overall, Chicago followed in the shadow of Portland (the last team RBNY faced at home). The Fire challenged New York more than a visiting side typically does. The resulting game was a back and forth with momentum swinging evenly.

On most nights, a rotated Struber rotation wouldn’t be anything new. The dense may schedule only amplifies this but circumstance played a role. The 3-4-2-1 formation included Lewis Morgan and Cameron Harper on the same side of the field – former Celtic boys united once again. However, Patryk Klimala and Luquinhas started on the bench. The former’s recent COVID test seemed to push the team to air on the side of caution. However after the game the Polish international was clear he was ready to start and go the full 90.

“I’m ready. Today I was ready to start, I was ready to play,” Klimala explained to the media after the match. “It was the coach’s decision to not start me today.”

Another COVID absence was recent standout defender John Tolkin. The New Jersey native was a late loss due to “health and safety protocols”. Harper did well to slot into his attacking defender mentality on the left side.

In the first half, that back and forth pace meant that both teams benefitted from different things. To start, Chicago’s Carlos Teran saw a yellow card for a tack down on Cristian Cásseres in the first minute. That gave RBNY the first of many free kicks but also the first of many that went un-shot on goal. The Bulls’ best chance on goal only came after Omir Fernandez drew a penalty in the 19th minute. Lewis Morgan’s shot from the spot just inside the right post gave the team a 1-0 lead.

But not long after Chicago really started to come together. Despite currently sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Fire played like a mid-table team. The buildup out of the back, with key links between Carlos Teran & Chris Mueller, led to more drives deep into Red Bull territory. It broke through in the 38th minute when Mueller equalized for Chicago. He held off two RBNY defenders before passing off to a teammate, who quickly fed him again before slamming a shot into the roof of the goal past Carlos Coronel.

Despite the swinging door momentum, some players did stand out. Tom Barlow did not look as outpaced as he did in the last Chicago match last month.Omir Fernandez went on to assist two goals in the match and earned game honors for it. And in his first MLS start Harper made a big impact in the second half. 

Following a Chicago goal by Wyatt Omsberg off a corner kick early on, Harper scored his first professional senior goal in the 58th minute to tie the game at 2-2. After receiving the ball on the left side of the box after a shuffling counter attack, his shot at Fire keeper Gaga Slonina looked to be blocked out. However momentum carried the ball onward over Slonina’s head and into the net to the shock of nearly everyone in attendance.

The road to this moment hasn’t been easy for Harper. The winger has been dealing with an injury the past two months that kept him off the roster to start the season. His last few games, including two assists and tonight’s goal, feels like more than just a return to form for him.

“I just wanted to be back out there. I wanted to help the team and I just, when I come back, I want to work my hardest and whenever I get an opportunity. I want to show my teammates and the gaffer and everyone that I can play a big role and that is just what I am trying to do, help the team out every time I come on or I start. The goal felt good, it was a big relief, it felt really nice.”

Chicago had a few looks to retake the lead including a header by Boris Sekulić that sailed just over the crossbar. But it looked as though the game was falling into New York’s favor.

I shouldn’t put this in here, but I actually turned to the Fire reporter next to me and mentioned that it’s a shame the biggest talking point of this game would be the lack of a win. That was in the 88th minute.

A minute later, Frankie Amaya lost a ball in the RBNY box and failed to slide clear it out. Xherdan Shaqiri, who’d been showing why he was the league’s highest paid player all game, jumped on it. His shot from the top of the box slammed into the back of the net and looked like a game winner.

But no one told second half substitute Patryk Klimala. The polish international charged down the field and received a pass from Fernandez. His shot slotted past Slonia in the 90+1st for the game’s final goal.

So… what’s the takeaway here? The Red Bulls are the first team in league history to go unbeaten in their first six away games and winless in their first six home games in a single season. The team is a top table team in Major League Soccer. They can’t win at home. But they fought hard and truly earned the point on Wednesday night. Should it have been three points against a lower table team? Probably. But it’s always a good result when a team fights back like that. One point can make all the difference later on in the season, especially with how tight the East is right now.

 

Harper also knows his team has little time to feel disappointed in the result. The busy May continues with league and U.S. Open Cup action over the next two weeks.

“We have to look forward, we cannot dwell on it.” he said simply to close out his media conference.

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