Anyone who’s followed the New York Red Bulls since Red Bull Arena opened has grown accustomed to that lightly-attended, early-season night game. While the crowd tends to be small on that chilly, early Spring evening, those in the house can usually expect one of the more entertaining games of the year.
The Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo went big on the action Saturday night in an eventful match that saw NY come-from-behind to grab their first win of the 2016 season, 4-3. And big might be an understatement. Emotions ran the gamut. There were twists, turns, ups, downs and things that left everyone simply shaking their heads.
Let’s take a trip back and run through my experience of taking in the Houston-New York instant classic.
First things first; I wasn’t there. Yes, I’m a Red Bulls season ticket holder who probably missed the most entertaining game that the 2016 MLS season will produce and I missed it by my own volition.
Earlier in the week, my girlfriend cancelled her plans with her girlfriends. She noted that even though she knew about the game and that I had planned on going, she wanted to spend Saturday evening in together, cooking dinner and asked if I’d skip going to the game and watch it on TV.
It actually wasn’t that hard a choice to make. I knew that it would be a chilly evening (not that cold but cold enough to be annoying) and I wouldn’t mind not being outside at night watching a soccer game. I’m also pretty fond of keeping a happy home and it’s not like I’m not gonna be at RBA another 15+ times this year. So, after making sure that my ticket found its way into the possession of another loyal RBNY supporter, I embarked on my Saturday and prepared to settle in with a nice evening of dinner and drinks with the lady and catching the Red Bulls game from the comfort of home.
And this is where things start to go sideways.
6:55 PM ET: Due to numerous emails from the RBNY front office, I’m well aware that the Red Bulls' encounter with the Dynamo will be on MSG2. What I don’t realize, however, was that four of the NYC-area teams for whom MSG broadcasts games (Devils, Islanders, Knicks and Red Bulls) would all be playing at the same time, so when I turn to MSG2 I don’t find the Red Bulls’ pregame but rather the Devils’.
After a quick television guide search I see that RBNY has been relegated to tape delay on MSG2 at 11:00 PM. Well, this isn’t exactly how I expected to be spending my Saturday night.
7:00 PM - 11:00 PM ET: Shrimp tacos, a "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" marathon and whole lot of college and NBA basketball.
11:00 PM ET: OK, I’ve made it to 11 without checking my phone, laptop or any channel that would potentially inform me of what has transpired at Red Bull Arena. Let’s do this!
11:08 PM ET: No surprises in Jesse Marsch’s starting XI as the return of Gonzalo Veron means Mike Grella is moved to the bench and we see the debut of the Veron-led 4-2-2-2 formation that was much talked about during the preseason.
(From this point on I stopped paying attention to the time and we’re just going to go by game clock from here on out.)
4th Minute: A typically scrappy start as neither team can get much control of the game.
5': Would you look at that, a through-ball attempt that’s weighted well! Unfortunately, it’s not timed perfectly as Veron’s attempt to play Bradley Wright-Phillips through on goal is whistled for offside. At least there was a small sign of inventiveness with the Red Bulls attack. Haven’t seen much of that so far this season.
10': NY seem to be falling into a flat 4-4-2 as Houston does some pressing of their own and forcing the Red Bulls into quicker decisions which is resulting in a lot of punts forward.
12': Houston registers the first attempt of the night as Leonel Miranda’s shot from outside the box is pulled wide. The play starts with Sacha Kljestan being stripped by Ricardo Clark, jump-starting the Dynamo counter-attack.
(This whole thing where the other team turns NY over and goes on the counter is starting to become a little annoying.)
14': A scoring chance for RBNY! Sadly, it’s seems like the Red Bulls are almost trying not to score as Wright-Phillips one-time’s a point-blank shot right into the chest of diving Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis.
(While the result is frustrating, the build-up is exactly what NY is looking for. Following a strong tackle from Gideon Baah on Will Bruin in front of the center circle, the Ghanaian center back quickly plays it ahead to Kljestan in the middle of park, who pivots and sprays the ball out wide to on-rushing left back Kemar Lawrence. Lawrence charges into the penalty area where he plays the perfect low-cross to BWP.)
19': RBNY just aren’t gonna score, huh? A fairly clear handball by Houston’s Raul Gonzalez on an attempted cross from Lloyd Sam is missed by referee Jair Marrufo and assistant Peter Balciunas. This is getting stupid now.
22': A goal! Scored by the Red Bulls no less. Red Bulls 1, Dynamo 0.
Kljestan gets the goal with a low shot from just outside the six-yard box but it’s all started by Veron. The Argentine attacker’s run down the right side and beating of two Houston defenders allows Kljestan to take the shot after DaMarcus Beasley swings and misses on his attempted clearance.
30': Felipe’s shot from the center of the box is easily saved by Willis but, once again, the Red Bulls execute a nice passing sequence that results in a clear attempt on goal. Positives.
32': We can’t have nice things.
Veron is laying on field with what looks to be a re-aggravation of the hamstring injury that kept him out of NY’s first two games. Sure enough, that’s what it is as Veron asks to be subbed out and Grella quickly enters the fray.
(Well, this stinks for everyone. Just as it seems that the Red Bulls might be able to get their attack going, Veron is forced back to the sidelines. The MSG crew does a job of keeping the camera on a clearly frustrated Gonzalo as he takes a seat next to the NY bench.)
35': Goal Houston and it’s Will Bruin. Red Bulls 1, Dynamo 1.
Well, that was quick. Just after getting over the disappointment of losing Veron again, NY concedes as a seemingly harmless long ball from Boniek Garcia is played over-the-top. Lawrence whiffs on the clearance allowing Bruin a free run and easy tap-in past an on-rushing Luis Robles to tie the game up.
(We seemed to have reached a point in MLS’ evolution where teams are now just looking to put pressure on defenses to make plays and hoping for mistakes. It’s a fairly sound strategy as the attacking talent has surpassed the defensive talent in the league over the last few seasons.)
41': Goal Houston and it’s Bruin again. Red Bulls 1, Dynamo 2.
So much for getting to halftime even. And what do you know, it’s another defensive mistake that creates a goal. This time it’s Ronald Zubar’s turn to swing and miss on a cross, allowing the ball to drop to the feet of a wide open Bruin who easily slots it past Robles.
43': Oh, you’ve got be kidding me!
And now it’s Baah who seems to have injured his hamstring as he pulled up lame chasing a Houston attack towards the corner flag. Baah tries to wave off a sub but after a quick jog to test out the leg, he realizes that he can’t go and Marsch makes the sub as Karl Quimette replaces him.
(As he reaches the NY technical area, Marsch reaches out to console an upset Baah who instantly breaks down into tears and walks into the locker room tunnel. Now, I’m just sad.)
HALFTIME: Red Bulls 1, Dynamo 2.
What the hell just happened?
Things started out nicely enough as the Red Bulls were finally able to benefit from the skill of Gonzalo Veron, then it quickly goes up in puff of smoke filled with defensive mistakes and injuries.
(I do sense that this game is only going to get stupider, though.)
46': Alright, were back at it. No other subs as the teams start the second half as they finished the first.
53': Oh, FFS!
And now it’s Zubar who’s pulled up with, you guessed it, a hamstring injury. This is turning into a dark comedy.
Who knew that one team could have three guys with the same muscle/tendon injury on a chilly night in late March? But here we are. Conor Lade, come on down. You’re next in line to be the hastily-used sub.
I haven’t the slightest clue how Marsch plans on the aligning his defense but he seems to be putting Lawrence in central defense with Lade lining up at left back. This should be fun.
63': Goal RBNY and it’s Mike Grella, I guess. Red Bulls 2, Dynamo 2.
NY has just scored one of the dumbest goals I’ve ever seen and it’s delightful.
Chaos ensues in the six-yard box after Willis saves a Felipe shot, Houston defender David Horst attempts to clear the ball off the line - but his clearance deflects off Mike Grella’s extended left foot and ricochets into the upper corner. Sure, why not?
65': Goal Houston and it’s Alex with a long-range effort. Red Bulls 2, Dynamo 3.
Can’t even get a full two minutes of enjoyment out of Grella’s nonsense goal before the Red Bulls find themselves down again.
I’m ready for anything at this point; more goals, a brawl, a tornado, a streaker, numerous red cards, it’s all on the table at this point.
70': Is this a good time to mention that despite all of the nonsense that’s transpired I’m actually quite happy with how RBNY have approached and performed tonight? I know that sounds ridiculous considering the injuries and defensive lapses, but there’s been an energy and level of execution (at least in attack) that’s been missing the first two weeks of the season.
NY’s midfield, particularly Kljestan and Felipe, have looked much more dynamic and decisive than at any other point so far this season.
Nah, I didn’t just see what I think I saw, did I?
There’s no way that a Mike Grella equalizer was just saved by Sacha Kljestan’s stomach, right? I know that this game has been comedy but even that can’t be possible.
77': Goal Red Bulls! Felipe with a beauty from outside the penalty area. Red Bulls 3, Dynamo 3.
Felipe has been really excellent tonight and he’s always due for one beauty of a goal per season. Nice that this one has tied things up. You know what? Let’s go win this stupid game, eh fellas?
83’: Goal. Red Bulls. Felipe. Free kick. Red Bulls 4, Dynamo 3.
Come on now, no one thought Felipe was going to do it again, right? A well-taken free kick for the lead and I think he may have killed Joe Willis in the process. This is excellent. Things are getting silly here on tape-delay at nearly 1:00 AM ET on a Saturday night/Sunday morning.
90’ + 4: WUT.
Sal Zizzo just made a game-saving save with his face because of course he did. We all knew that once NY went up that Houston would push everyone forward looking for the equalizer. And of course Clark would have a chance at a point-blank volley and would smash it right off of Zizzo’s face ensuring the Red Bulls first win of the season. Perfect ending to a wonderfully dumb night.
MLS is hilarious and I love this ridiculous league.