The New York Red Bulls may have been shutout on Saturday night but so were their opponents. The 0-0 draw against Nashville SC earned New York it’s first point of the 2023 Major League Soccer season. The announced crowd of 18,000 boo-ed as the final whistle blew proving just how mixed the night’s emotions were.
A game with New York using the same formation and players as last week earned nearly the same result. The team lacked firepower up-top with only three shots going on goal. John Tolkin nearly put the team on the board early. His 12th minute attempt was saved by keeper Joe Willis. Elias Manoel had the other two attempts on net. But outside of the lack offense there are things to be positive about. Specific players and the defense as a whole are improving. In fact the entire defensive unit might be the best it’s been in some time. Maybe that’s just a by-product of playing teams early in the season. But it’s definitely noticeable.
Former RBNY captain Dax McCarty came back to Harrison and got a yellow card in the first few minutes. He threatened goal a few times, including a scissor kick that just went over the crossbar. In total, his physical presence was a challenge for New York. The referee could have given him a second yellow multiple times prior to his coming off naturally. He was joined by former Bulls Alex Muyl and Sean Davis. So most of the players on the field were cheered somewhat.
Here are some thoughts from New York’s first positive result of 2023.
Cam Can’t Catch A Break
The young 2023 has been going well for Cameron Harper in the starting XI. The winger has played 177 minutes through two games as both a defender and midfielder so far. Twice in the first half Harper demonstrated himself as a key defensive player. A block out during one of Nashville’s first attacks in the 12th minute started this. He kept the opposing forward from getting any sort on Carlos Cornel. Instead the ball trickled out for a goal kick.
In the 43rd, with Nashville pressuring again, a well timed slide block stopped a potential shot from reaching the RBNY net. This came with Harper coming from across the box to the far side to make the play. All of this combined with him helping push the offense up for multiple fast breaks trying to score.
“Today he was very, very helpful to create something in the final areas with some good cross balls. With some good one-one drills. And also some good high speed combination moments. Exactly what we want at home when the opponent stays deeper in a low block.”
However Saturday’s game didn’t end on the best terms for Harper. The former Celtic man collided with Nashville’s Brian Anunga around the 70th minute. Both players went down but eventually got back up and returned to play. Harper, though, looked off for the remainder of his game time. After going down again in the 85th minute he was subbed off for Omir Fernandez.
Following the match Harper was not available for comment as he was going through the concussion protocol. There are no updates on his situation at this time. Harper has struggled with injuries since joining the Red Bulls in 2021. While a concussion would be far different than the hip and leg injuries he’s suffered, it would be a shame if he misses time.
DMC: Dante (has) More Coming
With the offense beginning to slow down Gerhard Struber brought in his new toy in the 76th minute. Dante Vanzeir, New York’s newest Designated Player, made his debut on Saturday when he came in for Elias Manoel.
— Brian.MLS (@CurseofCaricola) March 5, 2023
Right after coming on he nearly had a chance to take the lead. A pass up by Cory Burke nearly found the new DP but the ball was hit too hard and too ahead of the attacker. Besides that, Vanzeir’s speed was an issue for the Nashville backline. Multiple times he broke past the defense on the near side to try and get Bull bodies into the box. His crosses and passes did struggle to get through traffic, which is expected. Nashville has a solid defensive unit and Dante is still adjusting to the offense.
“I think it was a difficult game, but it was good to get my first minutes, but for sure I need some time to to pick up the play and get even better,” Vanzeir said afterwards. “I think, it’s a start for me and the only way is up so hopefully next time, some more minutes and then some better results in general.”
In all, a decent showing for only 15 minutes of play. For someone that coach Struber believes has a “big nose” for goals, he has a whole season to sniff them out.
Defense is (Somehow) the Biggest Star
The loss of Aaron Long and the lack of a true center mid defender was something I thought was going to cost the Red Bulls greatly. Instead, they’ve allowed no shots on goal in open play through 180 minutes. The only shot on goal has been the successful penalty kick attempt in last week’s loss to Orlando.
“A silver lining to get the shutout that gives us some good confidence on our defensive ability, but like you said, we want to get a win especially at home here and hopefully we could get a win next week,” captain Sean Nealis said.
The back started with John Tolkin, Sean Nealis, Andrés Reyes, and Harper working double duty. With Tolkin and Harper playing up the wings for the entire game, it left Reyes and Nealis the rest. The two combined with the midfield including Frankie Amaya to keep buildups out of the final third. Mind you, this all game with Lewis Morgan playing the first half. The winger had been listed as questionable prior to the game and afterwards Struber admitted he came back too soon.
“The whole behavior from the team against the ball is very synchronized,” Struber said. “It’s also very difficult against us to create chances. This group give us more the feeling we can go with a little bit more bravery or risk moments in the offense. I think we are so fucking stable, sorry… we can handle more one-one moments in the defense.”
New York will be on the road next weekend as the season continues. A March 11 clash against Minnesota United will be a fun test for this group. The Loons had off this week but won their season opener, 1-0, over FC Dallas.