The New York Red Bulls played one of the worst first halves of soccer on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena. Charlotte FC went into the break leading by two thanks to two Ben Bender goals. No RBNY strikers or midfielders seemed visible during plays.
It’s impressive that the second half was a completely different story.

Substitute Dante Vanzeir and Cameron Harper both found the net within a ten-minute span. The Bulls left the game with a point and still trail the playoff line by three points.

The old saying is that a two-goal lead is the most dangerous. And after a much-needed international break, New York proved why. Smart second-half subs and a tactical change made a huge difference.

This also came as the club is missing multiple players because of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, including Cory Burke and John Tolkin.

First Half Bender

Look, let’s cut to the chase. I’m a lower-division guy. I see Ben Bender, a former National Premier Soccer Player (NPSL) player, score two goals. Usually, that’d make me very happy. But it came against RBNY, so it’s tough.

His impressive night began with a long kick from goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina in the 13th minute. Bender, who got married between games (congrats), got under the ball in the box. RBNY captain Sean Nealis failed to adjust and allowed Bender to get behind him. Facing just Carlos Coronel, he shot low between the keeper and the right post to give Charlotte the lead.

If the first goal came because of opportunity, the second came fully because of team play. Charlotte played up the left side and saw a long pass into the box looking for Enzo Copetti. Nealis seemed to get between him and the ball, but Copetti slid to get the ball, hopefully to a teammate. Many of the RBNY players felt this was a foul, but the official did not call it. Bender got the rebound on the left side and shot high. Coronel got a hand to the ball, but it went in to make it 2-0.

The first half was a complete disaster for the Red Bulls tactically. A backline of Kyle Duncan, Nealis, Hassan Ndam, and Cameron Harper had little connection with the midfield. Peter Stroud was a constant risk, allowing multiple passes to get intercepted.

Meanwhile, Elias Manoel and Luquinhas were practically invisible.

“The first half, I just said this to the group, is unacceptable from us,” head coach Troy Lesesne said after the game. “We have to take accountability for that performance, and we put ourselves in a really bad position. So before I can even talk about halftime, I have to say that first, and I was very direct with the group post-match; I was very direct with the group at halftime.

“I think we let a great opportunity slip away today, and we only came away with a point.”

Lesesne also mentioned this was not a performance that solely rested on Peter Stroud or Frankie Amaya. But the former started ahead of Daniel Edelman, who just returned from a successful role captaining the USYNT at the U-20 World Cup. At halftime, he came in while Stroud departed.

Lesesne was asked about the lineup choice by NYCSN after the game.

“It was in relationship to what we saw coming back after the break. It was in relationship to Peter getting into a really good run of form and respecting that.” Lesesne also mentioned he spoke to Edelman prior to the match about the choice to start him on the bench. “The way he performed in the second half shows he’s ready to make an impact in this group. And he’s hungry to do that for as many minutes as possible.”

Second Half Surge

As previously mentioned, Edelman entered the game in the second half. Another addition was striker Dante Vanzeir. Both players replaced Frankie Amaya and Stroud and made an immediate difference.

Vanzeir, whose starts since returning from suspension have been sparse, made a strong case to see more starting XI time. Immediately after coming on, New York looked more threatening. More time was spent in the Charlotte end. They allowed Elias Manoel to make a run up the left side and beat a defender. He quickly passed into a crossing Vanzeir, who one-touched it into the top of the net.

Speaking with the media for the first time in months after the match, the Belgian forward gave credit to Manoel.

“I think it’s simple; it started with a very good ball to him. I know he has this, like acceleration that he can use to dribble past defenders. The moment he puts his foot on the gas, I know it was my time to run in that first post. Of course, it’s always his decision where he was going to put the ball. But I think that was the biggest percentage of where the ball should come, and I think it was a perfect pass and a good finish. So yeah, back in the game.”

Not long after, Cristian Cásseres Jr. nearly tied it in the  56th minute. His free kick from the left side slammed off the crossbar and back into play. Immediately after, Vanzeir took a long shot from the left side that forced Kahlina to dive against the left post for the save.

The New York Red Bulls don’t score a lot of goals. This season the team had only scored multiple goals in a league game twice heading into Wednesday. So to see a second goal come ten minutes after the first was different. 

A pass around in the 58th-minute play saw Kyle Duncan lift a ball into the box. Vanzeir got a head on it, and Ndam had his back to the goal but was near the ball. Instead, he backed off as Cameron Harper charged in and scissors-kicked a shot to the right post.

Harper’s performance over the full 90 minutes earned him a spot on the MLS Team of the Matchdate. Bender’s two goals only got him on the bench (even rooting for the team on the other side, which feels weird).

“We have the abilities to definitely score more than one goal in the game, and it’s up to us to improve this task and our ambition,” Vanzeir said. “I’m sure that the next games if we can keep up this momentum, we will have some great games.”

Charlotte had a few chances in the second half, mostly off-counters—one in the 86th minute and a more critical one in stoppage time. In the 90+4’th minute, a long pass reached Patrick Agyemang on a run. Edelman chased him down as he reached the box.

The NJ native slid into the ball, between the Charlotte player and Coronel, to force a corner instead of what easily could have been a goal.

Team Pride Going Into Saturday

For the past two months, New York’s modus operandi has been short rest. The team is back at Red Bull Arena this Saturday night against Atlanta United FC. RBNY’s semi-rival also played yesterday, earning a late draw against New York City FC. The side is currently fifth in the eastern conference and on a seven-game unbeaten streak. However, all but two of those games have been draws. The game will also serve as New York’s yearly Pride match, too.

Hopefully, that will help boost New York’s attendance. Of all the games on Wednesday, RBNY was last in recorded attendance with just over 12,000. In person, the amount felt like less. Yes, it was a mid-week game on a dreary night.

But it still stings when a struggling side like the LA Galaxy can record over 20,000.

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