Members of the South Ward leave signs behind as they walk out of the New York Red Bulls match against Houston Dynamo FC on April 15, 2023. The fans were protesting the, in their thought, light suspension of Dante Vanzeir and the continued employment current RBNY head coach Gerhard Struber. (Credit: John Perd)
Members of the South Ward leave signs behind as they walk out of the New York Red Bulls match against Houston Dynamo FC on April 15, 2023. The fans were protesting the, in their thought, light suspension of Dante Vanzeir and the continued employment of current RBNY head coach Gerhard Struber. (Credit: John Perd)

For a second straight week, the New York Red Bulls needed to score late to leave Harrison with a 1-1 draw. This time, Omir Fernandez’s 90th-minute header secured RBNY a point against Houston Dynamo FC. After eight games, the team has five draws, but only one win has them in 12th place in the east.

Head coach Gerhard Struber expected this from the Dynamo. Like the Red Bulls, Saturday’s visitors have found partial success thanks to their defense. Houston also sits below the playoff line early in the season. But their record (3-1-3) is where it is because they allow so few goals.

“Houston, in a low block, in a deep block, and my boys, I think they create over the whole game our typical style,” Struber said in his opening statement following the match. “I think we have many, many possession moments today. It was maybe a little bit different to other games. But my boys work very, very hard over their whole game time to bring our break the ball down.

“In the end, again, a draw; this makes us not happy, but we cannot forget the circumstance, and I am in many, many directions happy how we come back in this game, how we have a big belief to change the result.”

Statement Before Kickoff

The most significant moment of the match came right as the opening whistle blew. Red Bulls fans had voiced frustration at the team’s current situation regarding performance and player actions—namely, the six-game suspension for Dante Vanzeir for last week’s racial incident against San Jose. Many believe the punishment should have been longer based on Major League Soccer’s zero-tolerance policy against racism. Additionally, anger was directed at Struber for both his inaction in taking Vanzeir out of last week’s game quickly. His performance as head coach since taking over has not been stellar. However, for some fans, Saturday was the final straw in wanting the Austrian out.

The player and coach met with the three supporter’s groups on Wednesday. Vanzeir was suspended six games and fined an undisclosed amount ($10,000) on Thursday. The groups released statements on Friday with their plans.

Following the national anthem and after staying silent during game introductions, Viking Army SC, Empire SC, and Torcida 96 all left the game in protest. Chants of “Fire Struber” and “We Want Struber Out” echoed during the walk. This came after the game was delayed over 40 minutes due to inclement weather.

Cameron Harper noted just how much the loss of the South Ward was felt during the match.

“They’re such a special part of the atmosphere around here,” he said. “They’re the fans that have been here since day one. It was sad to see it, but I understand. It’s a tough time for the club right now. The fans have the right to feel the way they feel. Hopefully, we can come to a compromise.”

When asked about his thoughts after the game, Struber said he had never felt a painful feeling like this before. But emphasized he apologized to the groups and hoped to look forward.

“I hope that we can come together closer in the next time, but I also have the feeling with our supporters, this could, um, yeah, needs time.”

Red Bulls Continue to Underwhelm, Despite Dominating

With Vanzeir unavailable and New York still dealing with injuries, Corey Burke and Tom Barlow both started up top for the team. Neither player impressed during their time on the field. For a second straight game, Burke struggled to get under passes. However, the Jamaican international did have a header attempt in the 34th minute, his lone shot of the game, which was on target but saved.

Barlow started the game hot with a behind-the-back shot in the 12th minute, but that was about it. Omir Fernandez and Daniel Edelman both suited up in midfield positions. Neither has been strangers to the field this year, but neither has been solidified as a starter yet. Both were making their fourth appearance each in the starting XI in 2023.

The real stars of New York’s offense early on were Harper and Sean Nealis. The former was critical in making connecting passes across the field. The captain, meanwhile, secured the middle of the pitch and had few looks on the net, especially on set pieces. The reason why the center-back was playing up so much is that New York dominated possession in the first 45 minutes.

Houston keeper Steve Clark was attacked and pressured throughout the game, but the first half was something else. Three shots on target and three shots blocked in that opening half caused the keeper to extend himself alongside the defense over. All the while, the rain picked back up in Harrison, allowing the ball to move even faster down the slick field surface. It didn’t feel like the game was impacted, in a bad way, by the weather at any point (minus the delay).

However, New York couldn’t break the deadlock and went into the break, still tied 0-0. Edelman told the media that the team has spoken about the mentality it takes to score consistently.

“I think that’s something we talked about is how to deal with the frustration and how we can all positively help one another,” Edelman said. “That was the motto going into this game is to back each other up when times are rough; it would have been a shame to come away with no points.”

Following the break, Struber subbed out Burke for Wiki Carmona. Despite the striker’s slow first half, New York’s offense was thrown off after this. Houston, especially forwards Corey Baird and Adalberto Carrasquilla, started getting more time in the New York end.

He provided the difference-maker in the 67th minute. A long goal kick from Clark got past multiple players before reaching a charging Ivan Franco in the middle of the field. He ran into the box with John Tolkin on him before gently passing back to Carrasquilla. The shot got past both Carlos Coronel and Tolkin to make it 1-0. Houston ended the game with three shots, two on target, and one goal.

From there, New York slowly started to gain the momentum back. Multiple set pieces and corner kicks helped the team re-establish the dominance in possession that had been muddied in the second half. After back-to-back corners, Tolkin sent in a kick from the near side that found Fernandez’s head in the 89th minute to tie the game. New York finished with 18 shots, seven on target, and… one goal.

“I’m trying to bring a little bit more of my creative aspect into the game, a little bit of something different, and I think it’s been working these past two weeks,” the Bronx native said. The game was also special as he made his 100th MLS appearance. “I was happy to get that goal in a situation where I normally don’t find myself in scoring positions.”

New York is undefeated at home this season through four games, including its lone win of the season. The Bulls head on the road for two games next against CF Montréal and Chicago Fire FC. Both are chances to score critical road wins. The next home match is set for May 6 against the Philadelphia Union.

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