There is always a concern when a hot team is forced to sit idle for a while that the first few games back will see prior momentum crushed. The New York Red Bulls went into a two-week break in their season having finally seemed to find their best: three wins in a row, 11 goals scored in that stretch. Fans hoped RBNY would come back from the break without any dip in form.
The 1-0 win over Rochester Rhinos in US Open Cup was an encouraging re-start to the season, but RBNY's next opponent was the Seattle Sounders, at Red Bull Arena in front of an eager home crowd. Conditions were perfect for a fall.
The team looked out of sorts at times, almost inviting the Sounders to spoil the night at RBA. But RBNY rarely has a game where it doesn't create chances, and Mike Grella did the converting of those chances into goals - bagging a brace that secured a 2-0 win and continued the Red Bulls' winning ways. The team now has a five-match winning streak in all competitions that started back on May 18th against the Chicago Fire. In its last nine games, RBNY is 7-1-1.
The opening goal came in the 18th minute. Connor Lade picked up the ball and passed wide to Sacha Kljestan, who danced around his defender and opted for an ambitious shot at goal. It hit the inside of the far post and bounced out. But Grella seized on the loose ball, knocking into an unguarded net with the Sounders' defense wrong-footed by the rebound.
He doubled it up in the second half as he attacked down the far side of the field in the 60th minute. Some nice one-touch passing by the Red Bulls moved the ball quickly up the field, and BWP sought to deliver the killer ball - but Brad Evans got to it and tried to back pass. The Sounders man seemed to slip and didnt' get enough on his pass, allowing Grella to steal in and take possession. Stefan Frei came off his line to block it, but he got chipped and it was goal number six of the season for the Glen Cove Native.
The defense did well to help Luis Robles keep the shutout in tonight's match as the center back tandem of Ronald Zubar and Chris Duvall made sure Jordan Morris and Aaron Kovar were forced to take shots early, or were found blocking shots to protect the 'keeper.
Connor Lade made an early sliding block to prevent the Sounders from converting an opportunity early in the match. In general, the defense got a severe test. Seattle broke through on several occasions, and some misses were owed to nothing more than the Sounders' bad luck or poor composure. But Red Bulls stayed focused at the back, recovered from mistakes, took the luck that came their way and never stopped battling for the win. They got three points for their efforts, and are just a single point behind the Philadelphia Union for first in the East (as well as a point ahead of NYCFC).
While the Sounders were without Clint Dempsey - on USMNT duty in the Copa America Centenario - this match was a great advertisement for MLS. Two sides went toe-to-toe for 90 minutes, neither backed down, and the action flowed freely from end to end for most of the game.
I was also excited to see Jordan Morris play for the first time. While this is his first professional season, you can see why he is already established as a future regular for the US Men's National Team.
Ultimately, this game was about RBNY. The team will now hit the road for four consecutive matches - three in MLS and one in USOC. Three points were important, because it is almost inevitable there will be some slip-ups during the road trip ahead. A tough trip to Real Salt Lake is up next. The schedule is fast and furious for the next couple of weeks. All RBNY can do is take one game at a time. So far, so good.