Racial Accusation San Jose
The match between the New York Red Bulls and San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, April 8 at Red Bull Arena comes to a halt after the visiting side accuses RBNY forward Dante Vanzeir of saying a racial remark (Credit: Michael Battista)

The New York Red Bulls’ match on Saturday night against the San Jose Earthquakes won’t be remembered well. The stoppage time goal by Tom Barlow, the latest ever in league history, secured the team a point. But the controversy involving a racial accusation that got that time added on will cast a long shadow.

Honestly, when the team gets major news coverage in the city or abroad it’s usually a bad sign.

Dante Vanzeir, the Red Bulls’ newest striker, was unofficially accused of yelling a racial statement during the match against the Quakes. This was allegedly heard by multiple members of the opposing team. He was not sent off, via card or substitution, following over 20 minutes of stopped play. As of now, Major League Soccer and both teams have released statements condemning racism and vowing to investigate.

Dante Vanzeir’s Alleged Comment Stops Match

Unofficially, the series of events played out as follows.

In the 54th minute, a late tackle resulted in a yellow card to Sean Nealis and both teams gathered togethering. During that huddle, Earthquakes forward Jeremy Ebobisse reacted strongly to something Dante Vanzeir, allegedly, said.

Multiple Earthquakes players surrounded Vanzier following the suspected remark, lending credence to Ebobisse’s claim. The grabbing at the Belgian player was only stopped once captain Sean Nealis pulled and led his teammate away.

“The racist remark was said – I do not believe it was to me, I can feel pretty comfortable saying but the word was used,” Ebobisse said after the game. “From there, anyone can make any sort of inference as to what it was aimed at, that is what the investigation can get to”

“What we saw tonight should not be part of the game. … I know what I heard.”

What followed over the next twenty minutes of stopped play was a lot of talking. Players and officials discussed, while the coaches learned about next steps. At one point, head coach Gerhard Struber was led away into the tunnel by a woman in a suit. He spoke to this woman for just under two minutes before coming back out and talking to Vanzeir, who remained in the game.

Besides the actual alleged use of a racial slur, this moment is one of the most contentious from the match. Fans and team members, including San Jose head coach Luchi Gonzalez, felt was unacceptable given the circumstances. Of course no information was passed to people in the arena, including members of the media, leaving those in attendance to check social media for updates. Meaning the immediate reaction in Harrison was boos not to Vanzeir, but to San Jose for holding up the game.

“I was adamant to suggest that the player should not be on the field anymore,” Gonzalez told reporters after the game. “When I listen to my players in terms of what was said or not said, there are things there that are unacceptable. It takes precedence over the game we play.”

In one moment from the match, Struber and Vanzeir are seen talking about ten minutes after the initial incident. Goalkeeper Carlos Coronel joins the group, looking upset and using hand motions that seem to indicate he was saying “nothing” was being done. What Coronel said officially hasn’t been confirmed but his body language suggests annoyance or something negative.

For his part, Struber told the media after that match that he and the organization took these accusations seriously.

“Right now, nothing (is) 100% clear,” Struber said after the match. “We will cooperate with the league in all directions. We will help that we will find in the end… we will support the league and report everything that we know. I think this is the right direction. There is a racism (accusation) in the moment and we have to clear this up. But it is outstandingly important that we find a very clear answer (with) what’s going on. And we will do everything that we have here as soon as possible to get a clear picture.”

NYCSN, acting as the pool reporter for the match, was able to directly ask match officials about the incident.

“A New York Red Bulls player was accused of using a racial slur towards a San Jose player,” the written response from the official said. “Neither the on-field officiating crew nor the video match officials could confirm this, so the proper protocols were utilized to inform the coaches and player involved, as well as the Match Director.”

The game finally got back underway after the twenty minute stoppage, in part, due to Ebobisse. The player, who still has not directly named the RBNY player he accuses of saying a slur, told his team he wanted to play.

“The reason why I felt, after a lengthy conversation, that we should continue on with the game is because the player who said the word claimed that it was not aimed at any of us,” he explained in a press conference.

This season Vanzeir has slowly been making his way into Struber’s lineups. Prior to Saturday, his time had been relegated to five second half substitutions. In his last home game at Red Bull Arena on March 18, his game winner against Columbus Crew SC gave New York it’s sole victory this season so far. The striker made no appearance to the media following the game and has not said anything on social media.


New York Stifled Till The End

Besides the incident, New York struggled against the Earthquakes. For most of the first half the west coast team held possession in the RBNY end. This wasn’t helped by the fact the home side was missing a considerable amount of starting XI talent.

Lewis Morgan and John Tolkin were both ruled out during training for the weekend’s game. Luquinhas had originally been listed as questionable but was left off the match day roster. They were also joined by Serge Ngoma, Matt Nocita, and Steven Sserwadda as being out with various injuries. That meant players had to move around.

One of these was Vanzeir, starting his first match up top in a two attacker formation with Cory Burke. For the former he had plenty of chances to shine. On multiple occasions his ball play around San Jose defenders and midfielders created space. That allowed the Belgian a chance to run. None of his three shots were on target. That includes a bicycle kick attempt right after the controversial restart that went high.

The other forward, not so much. Burke for his part struggled receiving passes up top and only saw two shots off target. He ended the game with a pass success rate of only 33,3%. After the game, Struber remembered one moment in the first half that stuck out. The 13th minute saw Vanzeir pass back to Cameron Harper, where the winger crossed into Burke at the top of the box. Hit directly, the Jamaican national team player was unable to come down with the ball. He did not get a shot and was stuffed by two players.

“We, especially in the first half, we have moments where we play very quick forward,” Struber said of Burke and the Harper pass. “And in these moments he was not always clean enough, orientated. He was not always so sharp (for) what we wanted.”

Both teams saw yellow in the first half as well for stand out reasons. Firstly, RBNY’s Omir Fernandez was shown a caution in the 11th minute for time wasting/unsportsmanlike conduct. During a dead ball play, the Bronx native kicked the ball away from the San Jose players.

Referees justified this decision following the game rather than just a verbal warning and Fernadez himself feels he needed to be more careful in controlling his emotions.

The Earthquakes’ yellow to Rodrigues in the 24th minute involved Vanzeir. After getting a long ball, the striker made a run down the far side towards the net. The opposing player shoved him from behind, about 5 yards from the penalty area, setting up a free kick. Fans and commentators believed this should have been a straight red. However, following the match referee’s explained the decision as well.

“A caution was issued for stopping a promising attack,” the officials said. “A central defender had opportunity to defend and therefore an obvious goal scoring opportunity was not present.”

By the end of the first half, neither team had been severely impressive. New York’s best chance had come from a Dylan Nealis header in the 14th minute. Much as been the case for New York, the team created build but were unable to score. The Quakes had nearly stolen a goal in the 43rd when a long lob shot by Jackson Yueill caught Coronel off his line. The Brazilian keeper jumped back but fell without touching the ball, which eventually hit off the crossbar and out of play.

Talking about the second half and not what transpired is pretty difficult. But overall, it was more balanced.

Prior to the stoppage, San Jose continued to hold possession and more attacks. But that was all stifled by the long break. Still, it was the visitors who struck first in the 80th minute. Cristian Espinoza, who’d been a terror on the right side all game, got a pass from Carlos Gruezo from the opposite side of the field. Coming in from the right, he made his way into the box, cutting back to throw off Dylan Nealis, before shooting low. His shot got passed Coronel to make it 1-0. An 84 minute equalizer was called back for a New York foul in the box prior to the ball crossing the line.

In effect, San Jose stopping New York chances, especially off set pieces, with fouls was the name of the game. Four New York chances that came via corners or long throws into the box were called back because of fouls, most of which saw a SJ player fall to the ground.

New York began making substitutions after this, including taking off Dante and Burke for Elias Manoel and Tom Barlow. The fourth official held up the time board and revealed 21 minutes of stoppage time were going to be played.  This was where the home side’s attack began to pick up, gaining two corner kicks and pressing high, limiting San Jose from getting any real chances to extend their lead. A Kyle Duncan shot off an Omir Fernandez pass from the top of the box sailed just over the crossbar in the 90+4th.

The breaking point came in the 90+17th minute when Omir Fernandez once again found Duncan. The defender’s right foot shot deep in the box was saved, one-handedly, by keeper JT Marcinkowski. The rebound fell to Barlow near the far post, who tapped it in. His first goal of the season made it 1-1, which it remained.

“Yeah, I was happy I got a chance to come in and being down 1-0 at home just trying to contribute,” Barlow said afterwards. “Happy I got the goal, not happy with only one point but I’ll take my first goal this season and build on it.”

Final Thoughts

With the match ending in a draw New York remains “undefeated” at home in it’s last five games dating back to last season. That streak includes three wins and two draws, however only one win has come during 2023. The team itself sits in 11th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 1-4-2 (WDL) and seven points. Vanzeir’s first start should have been the start of many. Instead, at best it has been clouded by this controversy. At worst, it was his last game in a Red Bull uniform at all.

The investigation will move forward with both teams and the league cooperating. The fan base on social media is already heavily against the RBNY striker. If he yelled something out that can be taken as racist, even if he didn’t mean it, that can’t stand. That along with Struber’s direct inaction to take the suspected player out of the game has made his hot seat seat even hotter. With only one win under his belt in 2023, how much more time does he have?

The team, with or without Vanzeir and, potentially, Struber return home this coming Saturday. They’ll face Houston Dynamo FC in the organization’s yearly Autism Acceptance night.

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