The New York Red Bulls’ inaugural Leagues Cup tournament is over. The team fell in penalty kicks, 1-1 (4:3), to the Philadelphia Union in the Round of 16.
An early goal by Elias Manoel was negated as RBNY’s offense deteriorated. The Union’s Nathan Harriel headed in a corner kick midway into the second half.
Two missed penalty kicks in the shootout, including one from a surprising taker, sealed the result.

Despite the result, head coach Troy Lesesne thinks his group gained something from the tournament.

Sitting under the playoff line in the Eastern Conference, he hopes the winning momentum carries over into the final stretch of the season.

“This is what we wanted to do, and we have to do that a lot coming out of this Leagues Cup competition,” Lesesne said.

“We’re going to have to do that a lot against many opponents. When we play here (in Philly) again, we’re going to have to figure it out as well to try to get a lot of results and turn our focus towards the MLS regular season now.”

Team captain Sean Nealis expanded on this. Also, noting how many wins against rivals New York was able to get.

Plus Liga MX teams like Atlético San Luis.

Still, the team needs to move on from losing against the Union, which has become a common occurrence.

“I think it’s positive to get some wins under our belt especially,” Nealis said.

“Some tough wins, so we ground it out against NYCFC. Tough game here, but I think the guys responded well and have to respond now after getting punched in the mouth. I think it’s a learning moment for a lot of young guys. So hopefully, we’ll move on, improve, and we have to make a run this last 11 games in the league.”

The game was a mixed back for New York. The first twenty minutes firmly belonged to the visitors in Chester. A lineup featuring Elias Manoel up top saw quick gains.

A fourth-minute-long pass by Luquinhas found Omir Fernandez on the right side, who crossed into the box.

Union keeper Andre Blake was out of place, and Manoel essentially shot into an open net for the early lead.

“I was really pleased with the way that we started the match,” Lesesne said.

“Really, the majority of the first half, I think maybe the last five minutes or so, they started to gain a little bit of momentum, but that’s going to happen with the quality they have.”

But that isn’t exactly true. In the 15th minute, Dante Vanzeir shot wide against Blake during a one-on-one chance. It was the best chance New York had to score a second goal for the rest of the match. New York struggled to really threaten after that point.

Philadelphia began to gain more possession and momentum. Dániel Gazdag was playing as the lone striker and struggled to connect on any attacks. That meant others like Julián Carranza stepped up. For the rest of the half, Carlos Coronel wasn’t pressured, but the backline was tested.

This was especially true of Cameron Harper on the right side. He allowed plenty of long balls to get past him, give the Union chances to get space, and put men in the box. Essentially, Philadelphia had ample time to find the weak points New York was presenting.

It finally broke through in the 68th minute. During one of Philly’s eight corner kicks on the night, compared to New York’s one, Nathan Harriel beat Sean Nealis to head in the tying goal. It was deserved, and New York had seemingly given up on playing offense.

The visitor’s second-half subs indicated a more defensive effort. Taking off Manoel and Fernandez for players like Kyle Duncan and Tom Barlow.

The most surprising moment of the match came with the Red Bulls’ final substitution. Winger Lewis Morgan came on during stoppage time for his first competitive game in two months. He replaced Cameron Harper for the penalty kick shootout.

During training last week, Lesesne said that Morgan would need another month or two before he was ready for action. He was surprisingly listed as a substitute on the game-day roster and was warming up pre-game. However, he was not wearing cleats, and it looked to be more moral-based. That changed with his entrance into the game.

Morgan started the shootout for the Red Bulls. His first touch of the ball in months was an easily saved shot. Blake dove to his right to put New York in a hole immediately.

Lesesne was asked by NYCSN about the chance to bring Morgan in and what that means for him going forward.

“He’s making really good progress, number one, physically. So, I’m hoping that continues, and maybe we get him back a bit earlier,” Lesesne said.

“I never would put him in a position that if he wasn’t fit to be able to be in that roster, and also be a part of the penalties. I wouldn’t make that decision if he wasn’t fit to do that, I think his form as a penalty taker is one of the best in the league. So for one moment like that, I trust him. I’d do it again if I had the chance to do it again. 100%.

“I think the only thing that’s probably, there are two things that I think are unfair about it. One, you know, he’s been out for a while, and putting that pressure on him is not easy. So I take responsibility for that. But I’d say the other thing that’s unfair is to have all the focus on that right now. Because the performance that we just put in at one of the best teams in the league merits a lot more than just one penalty.”

Philadelphia responded with two successful rounds of kicks from Jack Elliot and Mikael Uhre. Frankie Amaya made his attempt in Round 2 as well. The third round saw Daniel Edelman hit the lower part of the crossbar for a denial. But the Union’s Jack McGlynn was stopped by Coronel to keep New York down by one. Sean Nealis and John Tolkin made their subsequent kicks, but it was not enough. Coronel could not stop shots from Julián Carranza or Jesús Bueno.

The Union will move on to play Liga MX side Querétaro this Friday back in Chester, PA.

New York has some much-needed time off until their next game. They’ll return home on Sunday, August 20, to face D.C. United.
The Atlantic Cup clash is important for both teams. D.C. is barely holding on to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

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