Atlanta United FC’s Thiago Almada scored two goals in his team’s 5-1 win over the Portland Timbers. His world class free kick goal has already made the rounds across social media. With trade rumors already swirling about the Argentinian, he should have been the main talking point for Week 4.
Instead, Dante Vanzeir snuck ahead of him. My North American Soccer Reporters Player of the Week ballot has the Belgian striker ahead of Almada. Is it biased? Maybe (actually 100% it probably is). But the goal Vanzier scored on Saturday night might be the most important goal of the New York Red Bulls’ young season.
— The Soccer Times (@nySoccerTimes) March 19, 2023
The 86th minute connection with John Tolkin put New York ahead of the Columbus Crew, 2-1. It led to the first win for the team this year. Plus, it is the first time, so far, that the Red Bulls have gotten a lead in four games.
“I think the whole week, we invest extremely in scoring moments in the training sessions, also about some special speeches that we give not too much impression of a problem in this direction,” head coach Gerhard Struber said after the match. “We find the right balance and in the end, again show us, I believe it’s tough with Columbus. They caught us on a good level with many, many players, and what made it not easy, especially with the mistake in the first half, the one we were behind, and then we don’t lose the belief.”
The cross by winger John Tolkin from the far side flew over the Crew defense. Vanzeir, stationed in the box on the near side, initially didn’t look like he was in position. Cries of ‘run for it’ rang out from both behind and within the press box. But, almost with teleportation, the striker reached the right post in time. The ball fell to his feet and an almost cautious kick slotted in RBNY’s second goal.
With a coach who uses the word ‘sexy’ nearly every press conference, Dante admitted it wasn’t the best looking goal.
“It was not the easiest goal, it was difficult to take it on one touch,” he told NYCSN during the post match media scrum. “But I’m glad it went in. I’m hoping to score even nicer goals.”
So why does this goal matter more than a perennial goal of the year candidate?
The late goal represents a change in the norm for RBNY. The team fell behind in the 38th minute after Alexandru Matan with the first goal of his MLS career. By this point it was the same story as the previous four weeks. The Bulls looked in control, were leading in shots, but struggled to make critical chances against the goalkeeper. While the official league stats say RBNY only held possession for 38% of the game it never felt like that. So Columbus going ahead was both annoying and not surprising at all.
So when Luquinhas tied the game in the 58th minute things were already feeling different. Against Orlando, New York should have left with a scoreless draw but a terrible penalty call sunk that. Last week in Minnesota poor playing conditions allowed United to go ahead early before Andres Reyes scored the team’s first goal of the year. Vanzeir’s goal on Saturday feels like something that should be the norm for this team. If the midfield and offense can control games consistently, and pepper shots in the final third, coming from behind or being ahead shouldn’t feel rare.
“I think it’s the moment we were all waiting for, especially for myself,” Vanzier said. “That’s a great start. First victory at home, first goal, that’s a good moment to keep going.”
He’s right, it’s a start. So hopefully the Belgian national team player can continue this upward momentum against Charlotte FC on March 25th. Maybe the whole team can earn it’s first road win and get six points in two games.