It was an even game against an opponent experienced in the art of bettering its alleged betters. RBNY brought respected the Rhinos' past (1999 US Open Cup champs) and present (reigning USL champs) by sending out a lineup that left little room for usual second-guessing if the game was lost. The club's captain was on the field from the start; so too was its ever-present-in-MLS starting 'keeper, and its top scorer of the last three seasons, and the man seemingly destined to break all RBNY's assist records.
It's good to see the team you support respect its opponent and the game (what's that? No, I didn't hear about LA Galaxy - why would you bring them up?). Even better to see that team into the fifth round of USOC.
1. Setting the tone
It's easy to say a tournament is important to the club. It's equally easy to explain away a slew of lineup changes with talk of crowded schedules, squad depth, and the importance of managing the minutes of key players.
But, heading into the busiest part of their season so far - and it will stay busy if the Red Bulls can keep their USOC campaign going - RBNY sent out six bona fide starters, including the four players who have logged the most minutes on the field to date this season (Luis Robles, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Dax McCarty, and Sacha Kljestan).
And the five missing starters were on the bench.
And Gideon Baah and Gonzalo Veron were considered first-choice first-teamers at the start of the season, and may yet be again.
This was not a weak lineup. It set the tone for RBNY's Cup campaign for 2016: the team is serious about taking it seriously.
2. The best of Veron, the not-so-best of Veron
Credit Veron for the match-winner: his skill and determination on the ball drew the penalty that won the game. Against a well-drilled team, confident enough to let RBNY have the ball for long periods and wait for the chance to counter, Veron proved to be what we have long hoped he would be: the difference-maker in a tight game.
U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) June 16, 2016
But he's not at his best yet. A skewed shot in front of goal in the second half was a reminder that the best is yet to come for Veron - hopefully.
3. The kids were alright
The senior players were the game's most significant on the night for RBNY. But their juniors stepped up well.
It's a little insulting to Gideon Baah - 24; capped by his country; league and cup winner for his clubs in Ghana and Finland - to call him a junior player: he's a starter trying to win back a place he only lost to injury. But Baah is younger than RBNY's primary center backs at the moment (Aurelien Collin and Ronald Zubar). He looked closer to the player we saw at the start of the season than at any point since he started his long journey back from injury.
Sean Davis had a steady night next to Captain Dax in midfield. Alex Muyl came off the bench earlier than expected - barely 20 minutes had gone before Shaun Wright-Phillips had to leave the game - and played like he'd entered the game in the 70th minute for 70 minutes.
But the biggest praise should go to Justin Bilyeu, who might be the best attacking left back available to this squad. His crossing would have earned him at least two assists on another night: his boot supplied the pass Veron shanked wide of goal; BWP also got close to converting a cross from the rookie.
Bilyeu doesn't seem to have the same engine as Connor Lade, nor does he appear to have the elite quickness of thought and foot that Kemar Lawrence can bring when he is at his best. But the 22-year-old's left is a reliable and effective tool in the attacking third, and he's just getting started as a pro.