The New York Red Bulls are not done yet in the 2023 Leagues Cup tournament. On Sunday, the team beat Liga MX side Atlético San Luis, 2-1, to win its three-team group.
Dante Vanzeir scored both goals in the second half, including one in stoppage time. Now the Red Bulls head into a knockout stage match against New York City FC on Thursday.
Head coach Troy Lesesne:
“(The derby) is a big challenge,” said on Sunday. “I think we all know that coming off of the feeling we have right now and an emotional high which I told the guys to enjoy it. Even though it wasn’t exactly the perfect script of where we thought it would be when we were up 1-0 up to win the group. We still won the group, and no one had us winning the group. By the way, everyone had us finishing third. So I think that that’s something that’s very important to say, and say that’s a good accomplishment.
“But now the next challenge comes in it’s a challenge, as you said, in a very talented New York City team and a Derby for, you know, the team that’s going to progress to the round of 16. So I think we have to enjoy this for now but move on tomorrow.
Still, Sunday’s match had a few key points that deserve mentioning going into the knockout round (Thursday at 8 PM).
Both about the state of the Red Bulls and the uncomfortable reality of the Leagues Cup.
Tom Barlow… Oh No
It is tiring to continue talking about this.
Someone, anyone, in #RBNY media needs to ask Lesesne how Tom Barlow is still being allowed to start at this level. I've never seen such an incompetent player at this level be given so many chances to embarrass themself.
— Brian.MLS (@CurseofCaricola) July 31, 2023
Look, let me start with the positives. Barlow’s final play of the game was a great chance to double New York’s 1-0 lead. A service from Dante Vanzeir into the box found him head-on (literally). His header attempt went into the side netting. He was subbed off for Elias Manoel right after.
That’s about it. The forward played over 60 minutes and only had one shot on goal. Some of his other misses include one in first-half stoppage time. A run alone into the box had Barlow shoot well wide of the net. The striker claimed defender Cata Dominguez had fouled him, but he was lying to himself.
He never looked comfortable against Atlético San Luis. Barlow won none of his duels, looked dreadful whenever he had the ball near the box, and was a liability for his team. Not being on the end of long passes, muffing attempts in the critical third. San Luis controlled the ball for so long because New York was content to hold in, trying to figure out attacks. Barlow messing up was almost certainly a reason why things stalled out early.
Mexican Team Does Not Equal Crowds
The official attendance for Sunday night’s game is 10,421. In-person, this felt about right. The lower bowl of Red Bull Arena was decently filled, and the upper deck was sparsely populated. It would have looked better if the crowd up top had been brought downstairs.
But appearance aside, the game was seemingly destined to fail in terms of attendance. A non-league match on Sunday night is not going to do well, especially when it isn’t a holiday weekend. Combined with the previous Leagues Cup game being the same day as Arsenal vs Manchester United. Plus, the short notice for a midweek Hudson River Derby in the knockout rounds.
Look, neither the team nor the competition itself can be blamed for everything. But the already waning interest in RBNY was put on full display for the Leagues Cup. The somewhat well-traveled fans of San Luis could not make up for that fact. The tournament is disappointing in terms of crowd numbers across the country. Overall Leagues Cup is averaging just under 16,000 fans per game. That’s below the league average for both Liga MX and Major League Soccer.
This is even more apparent when international friendlies across the country were sellouts, including a well-attended Premier League Summer Series match at Red Bull Arena two days prior.
Coronel is Really Good
Despite not coming away with a clean sheet Carlos Coronel was the Man of the Match. He made four saves during the 90 minutes. That includes a critical penalty kick save against in stoppage time to keep the game tied 1-1.
This season, the Red Bulls slumping performance has taken away some of Coronel’s previous shine. Last year around this time of the season, he was making comments about potentially being the best keeper in MLS. This year he and the team has allowed only 26 goals. If the offense produced more, maybe those arguments would continue to permeate.
Back to Sunday, Coronel’s save against San Luis’ Bilbao Unai might have kept the game level. But it wasn’t his best save of the night. A corner kick in the 69th minute was put in the box and shot on net. Coronel dove through the air and put the ball back in play—a spectacular save… negated when Jhon Murillo headed in the tying goal on the rebound.
Head coach Troy Lesesne had similar thoughts on it all after the match.
“I hated that we gave up the goal we gave up because he made a fantastic save on the first attempt from Atlético San Luis, and then they were able to put into a rebound,” Lesesne said.
“I think he deserved a clean sheet on the night, but how he’s been able to step up in the last two games and really bring us back and swing the momentum in our favor is really impressive.”