The New York Red Bulls suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to the Philadelphia Union in their latest fixture on Saturday evening. It’s a seventh straight game without a win for New York, who sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference after 11 games.
On paper, the result makes sense. The Union are defending MLS Eastern Conference champions. Coming off an elimination in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals to LAFC, this had all the markings of a revenge game. It makes sense that the game was labeled Star Wars Night with an announced attendance of 18,712. For them, team RBNY’s success feels like it happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
“The frustration is right now on an outstandingly high level,” head coach Gerhard Struber said after the match. “10 for 10, I would say. Not only for me but also for my boys. Yeah, again, we can see we missed a lot in this game.”
The frustration boils down to New York’s inability to score goals. Despite outshooting Philadelphia 17 to 3, only three of RBNY’s shots were on target. Jamaican national team keeper Andre Blake was rarely forced to react during the 90 minutes of play.
Like most New York games this year, the early going saw multiple offensive runs into the box. Wide shots from Cristian Cásseres Jr. and John Tolkin were shots across the bow for a finishing blow that never came. The latter of which, in the 10th minute, was aimed just underneath the crossbar but was pushed over the top by Blake to keep it level. Cory Burke, who scored his first goal of the season last week in Chicago, started things off. The Union defense blocked out a 7th-minute shot from the top of the box. In total, the forward had six shots all game, including a dangerous header in the 73rd minute that went wide.
This was Burke’s first game against his former club since joining New York last November. For the Jamaican international, he knew what to expect.
‘I know exactly that it is going to be a physical game, especially when you see Damien Lowe in the starting lineup. And with Jacob Evans, I know those are two physical guys and that it is going to be a physical battle all night for me and them,” Burke explained. “I expect that, and I also know that there was going to be a moment where I lose, a moment where I win against them.”
Speaking of Lowe, the Union defender was making his first start since April 5th. That physicality Burke mentioned was on full display as he helped stifle and push back New York. That includes four tackles, four clearances, two blocks, and 15 duels won out of 23.
The physicality also cost the Red Bulls in the end, technically. In the 26th minute, Dylan Nealis was called for an arm tackle on Julian Carranza. This was confirmed via a VAR check by match official Joe Dickerson. After the game, RBNY captain Sean Nealis called it a soft penalty, and later it was said members of Philly’s roster believed they got away with one. Dániel Gazdag sunk a low shot in the 31st minute past Carlos Coronel to give the game it’s only goal.
The game fell into a standard rhythm from there as New York’s offense slowed down. Despite holding the ball more, the team rarely threatened. A Philly free kick on the far side of the box in the 57th minute saw a low feed into the box. Getting past the wall, a shot on the net was only kept out via an excellent diving save by Coronel. Other second-half highlights include Tom Barlow coming in as a substitute in the 64th minute for his 100th MLS appearance.
An interesting moment came in the 81st minute when new signing Ronald Donkor made his Major League Soccer debut. On Thursday, Struber had told the media the plan was to have Donkar play with the reserve team and train with the first team. The head coach explained after Saturday’s game that the Friday training session changed that.
“This was a special day between and (Friday) he show me in training outstanding moments, and we need a goal today, and especially yesterday we have many, many moments to score in training, and he showed me in this direction a very very good picture, and this was the reason why he comes in. I have the feeling he could bring some impacts that would be helpful. I have a big trust in him. Sometimes special situations need special measures, and I go in this direction today. We all need that he has a bright future for his chest. He needs game time. He needs, especially the second team, that he makes the steps what we want. Today, I think he has a good moment, he showed us his talent, and this was the reason. Yesterday’s training triggered the chance to go in-game time.”
(Also, shoutout to Gerhard Struber for saying he was “not surprised the question come from (me)” when asked about the change in plans.)
Overall the defense once again played a solid game. The Nealis brothers, Andres Reyes, Dru Yearwood (making his first start of 2023), and Tolkin, all excelled in the transition between backline and midfield. The team averages one goal per game, one of the best rates in the eastern conference. The issue still comes down to goals actually scored. However, Vanzeir is suspended, and the team is injured (including Lewis Morgan and Luquinhas). Other players will need to step up in the meantime.
Besides the result on the field, the situation in the stands also made some news. The South Ward of Red Bull Arena was once again filled with supporter’s groups following a protest walkout three weeks ago. The passionate fans felt the walkout was the best way to voice disapproval over multiple grievances. This included; the six-game suspension of Dante Vanzeir for a racial outburst (believing it should be more) and the lack of repercussions against Struber for his actions during the incident. Following votes by the three groups, the following decisions were made;
- Empire Supporter’s Group voted to return but did not take part in supporting the club.
- Viking Army Supporter’s Group voted to return and take part in supporting the club (IE cheering).
- Torcida 96 voted to return and support but moved to the Viking Army section. This was to boost the critical messaging that would be present.
This included a large banner raised during the second half that stated, “Not Good Enough.”
A familiar set of words for fans from the last few years. Similar signs were held up for head coach Chris Armas prior to his sacking in the summer of 2020.
New York has little time to rest, however. The team enters the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night. A home game (at MSU Soccer Park) will see the team play three-time champion DC United. Last year, the Bulls reached the tournament’s semifinals, something Yearwood knows is on the team’s mind.
“We did well last year, we went far, and that is obviously our aim this year to go as far as we can and, of course, build some confidence from those games,” he said. “That’s what we plan on doing; we can’t sit here and sulk because we have a game in two days, and we have to be ready to go again.”
The team will be without captain Sean Nealis in that game. Yellow card accumulation from last year will keep the defender off the roster on Tuesday. This, combined with New York’s injury woes, might force a few drastic changes into the lineup.
League-wise, New York will host New York City FC on Saturday night. The first Hudson River Derby this year will see both New York teams try to reverse recent fortunes.