The 2023 New York Red Bulls. Same as the old Bulls? Potentially, but the season opener against Orlando City SC did not do much to challenge that hypothesis. The team’s 1-0 loss behind a controversial penalty kick already has some fans thinking the same way as last season. However the team, wearing their new yellow (thought provoking) kits, wasn’t completely overwhelmed. That’s a positive considering how the New York faired in last year’s Open Cup semifinal against the Lions with a very similar squad.
Lewis Morgan noted after the game that he knows his team came into this match knowing the enemy. Going forward, they’ll continue to do that.
“Each game is going to throw a different challenge and I’m sure we’re going to have a different game plan for different teams,” he said.
But how well did everything work out? Here are some thoughts from the first 90 minutes of the season.
New Faces, New Places… For Some Faces
Before the bad, let’s look at some of the good! Saturday’s match saw two players get their first competitive minutes with RBNY after joining in the offseason. Forward Cory Burke entered midway through the second half for Elias Manoel. With New York needing an equalizer the former Union player didn’t register a shot in his 22 minutes of playing time. He battled, winning just over half of his handful of duels. But in terms of offense he was not really a difference maker.
Likewise, the final ten minutes saw the Red Bull debut of midfielder Peter Stroud. The former Duke star made some nifty passes, most of which found their intended target.
(READ: Stroud talks to NYCSN about his desire to play local amateur team in U.S. Open Cup)
It was a pretty big night for the Stroud family. Peter’s brother and former RBNY player Jared played in St. Louis CITY SC’s first ever MLS match. He scored his team’s second ever goal as they went on to win in unbelievable fashion. The first, funny enough, was scored by former Bull Tim Parker.
I still miss that lumbering back line bouncer.
Cameron Harper isn’t new to the lineup but his place on Saturday night against Orlando was. The winger was placed on the backline on the right side. Much like how John Tolkin does on the left, Harper worked dual duty as a full field threat. He made this known with a shot late in the first half that forced a block in the box. Combine that with two tackles, no yellows, and consistent faceoff wins and I’d consider that a success.
Major League Soccer Refs Strike Again
Here’s something that sucks to say. Under the rule of law, Sean Nealis did not commit a handball.
When Orlando’s Mauricio Pereyra kicked the ball towards Nealis it spiked off the ground and hit the captain’s chest. The ball then redirected and hit off Nealis’ right, essentially at the elbow, before going back into play. It’s tough to consider this a natural position when the arm was at near full extension.
Had Sean Nealis’ arm been lower or at his sides, the ball might have still hit. But I do not believe the referee would have called the handball in that case.
The fact is the handball that was called on the field in Orlando is not something that has been called in previous years. Head coach Gerhard Struber agrees with me and not the referee on this.
“It is always the same, we have to calculate wrong decisions from the referees and we have to score, in the end,” the head coach said in a post match press conference. “But today we had the wheel over the whole game in our hand but we were not sexy enough in front of the goal to score and then in the end a wrong decision. Decided for Orlando today and this is very painful that the season opener starts and decided with a referee decision. My understanding is, when the ball goes on the chest after that on the hand, the rule is very clear. Also, in every education what we have with the referees, they always told us that it’s not the hand and today we have exactly the situation and the video assistant was, I don’t know what he think, but would be very interesting.
“I think we lose this game with the wrong decision, the game, I think was on a very good level. Also the atmosphere outside in the stadium was brilliant, but in the end, a wrong decision decide here. This makes me very, very unhappy.”
Facundo Torres went on to score the penalty kick in the 56th minute for the game’s lone goal. Major League Soccer, in its 28th season, still can’t fully determine what a handball is completely. And that is a shame. The team’s performance before and after the PK did not deserve a win. The referee is not a scapegoat, and the team has plenty to think about improving. Such as-
One Goal… Score Goals
Groundhog day might have been earlier this month but it felt like it on Saturday night. After a promising first half, things didn’t look too different from 2022. The New York Red Bulls failed to score goals despite having countless chances in front of the net.
Cristian Cásseres Jr., making his 100th appearance for the team, had three shots during the match. Two of them were on target. Lewis Morgan, who looks to be one of the team’s biggest threats this year, led the team with six total shot attempts. Two of those went wide in the first half and the other two on target weren’t threatening.
“We created more than Orlando tonight — take nothing away from them, they won the game, they’re the happier of the two sides — but we’re going to start scoring these chances,” Morgan said, probably repeating something from mid 2022. “I’m happy to see that we’re creating them. We came to a tough place to play tonight, we wanted to win the first game of the season. But the ball didn’t land on our side tonight. We have a massive game next week and I’m sure we’re going to convert those chances in front of our home fans.”
One of the most gut-wrenching misses came in the 22nd when Elias Manoel put the ball just wide right of the net. The passing set-up prior places the striker behind the defense, on side, with only the keeper to beat.
It’s been one game, 90 total minutes of regulation. The New York Red Bulls have plenty of season to change things. But after a promising preseason things did not begin on the right foot. They’ll try to adjust and move on this weekend when they return to Harrison. The home opener is set for Saturday against Nashville SC.