The New York Red Bulls played their first game in Florida since 2001 when they traveled to take on expansion side Orlando City SC. In their first meeting with Orlando they quickly learned that this was a very different team from the ones that used to occupy the Sunshine State. The lower sections of the Citrus Bowl have been packed to the gills all season and tonight was no different with official attendance just under 34,000.
The Red Bulls also got their first look at legendary Brazilian midfielder Kaka, which received some extra context with the recent release of MLS player salaries. The disparity between highly paid designated players was on display in the game with Kaka who will make roughly 7 million dollars this season matching up with a Red Bulls defense who will make just under $320,000 collectively.
In the 1st minute the heat seeking/rocket powered Kaka found his first chance on net, which he sent barely wide of the post. This served as a timely warning to the Red Bulls of the perils of leaving the dangerous midfielder unmarked, a lesson that would be taught multiple times throughout the night as Kaka, at 33 years old, looked as deadly as ever on the ball.
Lloyd Sam lofted a beauty of a cross to Bradley Wright-Phillips at the far post in the 5th minute, which Wright-Phillips got a sharp head on, but was denied by the quick hands of OCSC goalie Tally Hall. The Brilliant Brits, Sam and Wright-Phillips, continue to link up well up front and consistently look a dangerous pair.
In the 10th minute Matt Miazga stopped a dangerous run by Kaka with a clever sliding challenge, that if misplayed could have easily ended in a goal. The young defender has a ton of natural physical ability and looks sharper and sharper as his playing time increases on the senior team. Over the last five games Miazga has matched up with legends David Villa, Raul, and now Kaka- looking effective against each.
Orlando played deep defensive style soccer, earning most of their real scoring chances on the counter attack. Kaka led OCSC like a general leading a series of blitz-krieg style assaults and undignified retreats wreaking havoc on the Red Bulls midfield who seemed to wilt a little in the Florida heat.
"The humidity really sapped us. As much as it sapped us physically it really took its toll on us in terms of staying tuned in, and the mentality of staying committed to playing the way we want to play," said head coach Jesse Marsch.
In the 14th minute an unmarked Kaka fed Carlos Rivas a perfect ball, which he sent wide of the far post on what looked like an easy goal. Kaka continued to create chances all night, which his teammates wasted. Orlando would get only 4 shots of 15 on goal.
In the 21st minute Sacha Klejstan found a pocket of space in front of an Orlando defense again sitting deep in their own half and sent a ballistic missile into the far post from a country mile away. Klejstan's finds himself in the middle of a fine run of form where he has become a vital part of the Red Bull attack.
Scoring first in hostile territory was huge for NY, as they have rarely lost from a winning position in 2015.
Lloyd Sam conceded a free kick in a dangerous spot in the 26th minute after a hard aerial challenge against Cristian Higuita. Darwin Ceren took the kick and nearly powered one in the far post, but was denied by a fantastic save by Robles. The strike, which made Klejstan's bullet look like a bb, was destined for the back of the net but was parried away by a diving Robles.
In the 32nd minute the game went off completely off the rails for Orlando when Cyle Larin slid in on Sacha Klejstan and showed a little too much stud for match referee Fotis Bazakos earning a straight red card. The call was questionable and probably shouldn't even have earned Larin a yellow.
"I went for the tackle and I don't think I touched him," said Larin, "I think he made the wrong decision and it happens. I was shocked to get the red card and walked off the field. I couldn't do anything about it. I went for the ball. The ball was there but I didn't get him or the ball and got a red for it."
This red card means Larin will miss Orlando's next game away vs. Chicago, but spokesmen for the team have said they will appeal the suspension. Larin is not having a good month and is only recently returned from a Canadian Gold Cup campaign in which the Canucks scored zero goals in three straight losses. Larin gained special notoriety in the competition for skying one of the easiest open net chances in recent memory in spectacular fashion.
In the 38th minute the Red Bulls would find themselves on the wrong side of another bad foul call when Damien Pernielle found the end of a beautiful Klejstan free kick and powered it past OCSC keeper Tally Hall, only to have the goal waived off for a foul that simply never occurred. Presumably the official believed Pernielle pushed up and off the Orlando defender but it was just a well-timed jump.
To the credit of the Orlando players they looked just as dangerous, if not more, with 10 men than they did with 11. They continued to threaten throughout the game, but just could not finish on chance after chance
Darling freshman attacker Anatole Abang came on for Lloyd Sam in the 57th minute, in a move that was likely intended to keep him fresh for midweek clash Open Cup clash with the Union. The move showed off two of Marsch's best characteristics as a coach, his foresight and his aggressiveness. Sam could have come off for anyone but Abang has made a name for himself as a dangerous offensive player. Marsch wanted to put the game away and the move only put more pressure on a OCSC team down to 10 men while preserving a key force for a big game.
Marsch had this to say about keeping an eye on the forthcoming Open Cup match, "Right now our minds are totally wrapped around Tuesday. Even in the locker room we said right now we need to switch to make sure mentally and physically we hydrate and get ready for a big game on Tuesday."
Abang nearly earned himself a red card immediately when he karate kicked Aurelian Collin directly in the head while trying to gain control of the ball. Abang, who will be vital in relief of BWP during this weeks busy schedule, mercifully only saw a yellow.
In the 74th minute, Adrian Heath was ejected and received thunderous applause from the Orlando crowd, for arguing with match officials. In defense of Heath the referees had made a complete and utter mess of the game by this point and seemingly made all the wrong calls at all the wrong times.
"I don't really want to say about the officials, because if I say something, you get fined, and get in trouble," said Heath, "I am fed up in coming in here talking about the refs, it's not about them. Thirty thousand people come to watch footballers."
Mike Grella put the game to bed in the 91st minute when he put a shot low and hard at the far post, which alluded Tally Hall, for his 5th goal of the season.
Dax McCarty, who grew up 15 minutes away from the Citrus Bowl, had a huge night earning an assist on each of the Red Bulls goals in front of his hometown crowd. However, the Florida native was unhappy with the team's performance, "We've been a little bit soft, been a little bit naïve on the road." The captain also chalked the victory up to, "sometimes having to win dirty."
Goalkeeper Luis Robles notched his 5th shutout of the season and has now started and played all 90 minutes in 91 consecutive league games taking sole possession of 2nd place for the all time league record.
The Red Bulls walked away with 3 huge points and with a record of 8-6-5, sit 6 points off of the top of D.C. United. This game was only their first test in the coming days as they are scheduled to face the Union on Tuesday in a Cup quarter final and then Chealsea the following day in the International Champions Cup on Wednesday. The games are just over 24 hours apart so it will be very interesting to see how Marcsh utilizes the team.