For the second time in five days, the New York Red Bulls won a match. For the second time this season, the New York Red Bulls earned three points in a league game. Granted, the Red Bulls still sit near the bottom of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference at the time of writing. But a 1-0 win at home against New York City FC has something flowing through Harrison; positivity. Bronx native Omir Fernandez hit the game-winner in the second half off a redirect to beat NYCFC.
Head coach Troy Lesesne has only held his current position since Monday. And the fact he’s yet to cross the one-week anniversary of his promotion hasn’t slipped his mind.
“It’s been a lot. It’s been a lot this week, and it will be a lot going forward,” Lesesne said during the post-match press conference. “But that’s what you hope for. Whenever you get an opportunity like this, you want to obviously make the most of it. I’m at a great club, and I’ve been given an opportunity that I want to try and maximize.”
Announced as a near sellout at 23,121, Saturday was one of the first times this season that Red Bull Arena had this sort of energy following through it. The closest being the home opener against Nashville back in March. The South Ward was packed with all three supporter’s groups setting off smoke pregame and chanting all match—a far cry from the scenes present in recent matches. Despite returning last week against Philadelphia, the groups were still split then—some cheering and some remaining silent in protest.
Meanwhile, the upper deck of the north end was filled with the traveling Third Rail Supporters Group for NYCFC. It started with them yelling “Star” during the national anthem, signaling the star on their team’s kit for winning the MLS Cup in 2021. From there, both sides battled with chants for most of the game.
There were also some non-chant clashes as well. NYCFC fans allegedly threw rocks at Red Bull supporters while marching into the arena. One arrest was made from this, confirmed independently by NYCSN. After the game, it appears NYCFC supporters were allowed to exit with little separation from the RBNY fans leading to some fights.
Fans posted on social media about the incidents; however, nothing has been independently confirmed at this time.
First Half Stalemate
On the field, Saturday’s game saw RBNY make a few alterations in its starting lineup compared to the Open Cup earlier in the week. Carlos Coronel was back in goal, something that was pretty much expected. Sean and Dylan Nealis replaced Hassan Ndam and Peter Stroud. Besides that, every other player was back but in slightly adjusted positions.
New York City FC came in with a few more changes after they played a losing effort on Wednesday in the tournament. About half the squad had been switched.
Interestingly, Saturday was a different type of game for the Red Bulls. The team didn’t dominate in possession as it has been in recent matches. And while the team led in total shots like it usually has, it took far fewer at only eight. And half of those shots were on target. For reference, RBNY might usually take something like 14 shots with only four on target. Having a lower amount but testing keeper Luis Barraza on more of them is different.
Early chances by the home side all came from quick-minded plays. Cameron Harper picked off an NYCFC play at midfield and looked for a chance to start a run in the 7th minute. He passed off to the right side, where a waiting teammate was covered up. That’s the sort of play that exemplified the match. Later on in the 19th minute, NYCFC failed to clear a ball from their own end. Dru Yearwood intercepted it and passed it to a prone RBNY player, who still passed it off to Harper. His shot went into the right-side netting.
A few minutes later, in the 23rd, NYCFC’s Gabriel Pereira attempted to send a ball into the box towards a running Santiago Rodríguez. A quick-thinking Andres Reyes lifted his leg up behind his back to redirect it out. Omir Fernandez quickly got on the ball and played it up towards Tom Barlow on a run. The forward got past one defender, but Barraza got onto the ball in City’s box before he could get a chance with it.
Still, the best look on goal came from the visitors. A City run up the left side saw Kevin O’Toole pass in to Talles Magno. Another quick pass into the center found Pereira, who one touched a curved shot. It sailed just wide of the intended top left corner past a diving Carlos Coronel. The game stayed scoreless into halftime. A mix of high press, high possession soccer from both teams, with each getting one shot on target each.
Bronx Messi Does It Again
Halftime saw no changes for either team. Despite RBNY having more injuries, NYCFC stayed the course for most of the game. The team only used one substitute, which came in the 89th minute while trailing. NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing defended this saying he thinks every player that was on was the right choice for this game.
“I thought we had all our offensive players on the field in a game of this magnitude,” Cushing said. “We have Talles Magno, Santiago Rodríguez – they’re both DPs, (and) we have Gabriel Pereira, that’s our best defensive player. We changed Richie Ledezma because he was tired. Because I’ve said a million times that the amount of football that is played since he’s been at PSV and here, so we brought Andres Jasson on. The magnitude of this game, I think the guys on the field are there to win football games.”
Another factor to consider was the increasing amount of hard challenges for both teams. While Keaton Parks saw the game’s first yellow late in the second half, the Bulls ended the match with more. Andres Reyes, Sean Nealis, John Tolkin, and Cristian Cásseres Jr. all saw yellow in the final 45 minutes.
As both team’s traded chances, the amount of build-up also increased. Second-half substitute Cory Burke brought a level of danger to the top of the field. A late chance for him nearly gave RBNY a second goal. However, the Jamaican national team player also had plenty of missed opportunities. A moment in the 90+1st saw him with a run into the box alone, with only the keeper to beat. However, his cut into the box allowed for defenders to swarm him, giving the keeper a chance to jump on the ball. A few minutes later, he had another look on the net but held the ball too long at the top of the box before shooting wide under pressure.
For City, the team lacked a clear attacker, and it showed. O’Toole had a run into the RBNY box in the 51st minute but crossed in to find nobody. That was one of the only NYCFC attacks that nearly threatened Coronel in the second half. While the visitors maintained possession, they didn’t feel clinical in finishing. That led to the team only having one shot on target all game.
In the end, Bronx native Omir Fernandez stepped up to score his third-ever goal against NYCFC (across all competitions). A throw-in found Wikelman Carmona in the NYCFC end, who attempted to pass into the box. It was intercepted by City’s Tayvon Grey and Pereira but not effectively cleared. The ball bounced towards Fernandez, who essentially chipped Barraza by putting the ball between his jumping hand and under the crossbar.
“Every time we go into these games, I try to score whether I start the game or come off the bench,” Fernandez said after the game. “It means a lot to me; honestly, I talk about these games with my family and friends all the time, so to get a goal and be the difference today was really great.”
The Red Bulls will be playing on short rest once again. A Wednesday match in Canada against Toronto FC awaits the team on Wednesday. Then they’ll return home on Saturday to play CF Montréal. Midfielder Peter Stroud understands the tight schedule and how his team will have to prepare for the gauntlet, it’s currently going through.
“There’s not too much physical preparation,” he admits. “I think it’s a lot of time in the video room. Getting ready for the opponents, you have to be smart with your body. The load is so high. These games and this style involve a lot of sprinting. You’re almost on the training field for less time, but you’re almost more useful with that time.”
Not only will the team have less time to recover, but it will also be without even more players. Reyes, Sean Nealis, and Cásseres Jr. all will miss Wednesday’s game due to yellow card accumulation. The team is also with six players due to injury, and Dante Vanzeir is still suspended for one more game. Just prior to Saturday’s game, the team announced it had signed New York Red Bulls II goalkeeper Will Meyer to a short-term contract to fill in for missing Ryan Meara and AJ Marcucci. Lesesne told NYCSN that it was possible more of these contracts could be signed for Toronto.
“It’s possible. I’d say this is the next challenge – (we had) a first challenging week, and we’ll have a challenging week coming with a Wednesday (game) and Saturday (one too). I’ll get with (Jochen Schneider) and (Denis Hamlett) on that, and we’ll make the best decisions to prepare for Wednesday and Saturday next week.”
The team will stay at RBA for another game on Tuesday, May 23—a clash with FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 awaits.