This is what the fans wanted to see. After going winless in five games that included the loss to the Philadelphia Union in the fifth round of the US Open Cup, the New York Red Bulls finally bagged three points again. A 2-0 win against Orlando City at home put a different spin on RBNY's form: the team now boasts back-to-back clean sheets and a mini unbeaten streak.
Connor Lade earned his first MLS goal in his five-year tenure with his local club. He bagged two USOC goals in 2012, including a screamer of a shot at Charleston, and he rescued a point for RBNY in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League with the equalizer against Montreal Impact at Red Bull Arena in a group stage match that didn't mean a lot to either team (Montreal was already qualified for the quarterfinals; RBNY already eliminated).
Now Lade can add a goal in MLS to his collection. In the 37th minute of a fairly scrappy game, a Red Bulls' corner saw the ball bounce around the box until Lade hurtled in to deliver a left-footed blast to the upper 90.
More was to come in the second half. In the 59th minute, RBNY lined up for a free kick. Dax McCarty gave Felipe some cover, screening Joe Bendik's view for the free kick - and then the captain stepped aside for Felipe to slam his kick through a hole in the wall, beating Bendik comprehensively.
The Brazilian showed his class in his celebration, running over to the bench to grab Gideon Baah's jersey and dedicate his goal to his injured teammate.
After his goal @FeliMartins8 pays tribute to injured teammate Gideon Baah pic.twitter.com/tRwUSVISM1— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) July 14, 2016
All throughout the match the Red Bulls played tough defense and their high press continued to push hard on Orlando City. But before Lade's goal was scored, there was the all-too familiar RBNY frustration in and around the box.
There was indecision, or no decision - with no one making runs off the ball - or the wrong decision, with shots blocked or players stripped of possession at crucial moments. Before Lade put the Red Bulls on the right track, it seemed as though the team's best chance had already been denied. A penalty was given and then rescinded after Seb Hines flew across the area to block a shot. Referee Sorin Stoica pointed to the spot, then listened to a voice in his ear and reversed his decision. The replay did suggest the ball had hit Hines face rather than hands, but it was close - especially in real time.
The handball that was called, and then it was overruled. pic.twitter.com/VFAMlzUQ1k— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) July 14, 2016
In the end, the ref's reversed decision didn't affect the outcome of the game. At the final whistle, the Red Bulls could celebrate a turnaround almost as quick as Stoica's retraction of the penalty. Seemingly suddenly, RBNY is transformed from a hapless shambles, free-falling down the table to a challenger once again: just two points behind second-placed Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference, and three points behind Conference-leading NYCFC. And a 213-minute scoreless streak is over, replaced by a 180-minute run since last the defense was breached.
"Orlando kept things tight and it was tough to break them down, we knew that they were going to have a very good start and that they would be on top of the game as well," said Jesse Marsch, "Once they were opening up, we were able to probe and find some little advantages and we get a goal on two set pieces which we were good on the year. We were a bit frustrated with the chances we weren't getting earlier, but we were solid defensively on the night."
The next two Sundays will be huge for RBNY: they will feature games against the two teams sitting above the Red Bulls in the East. Neither game will be easy, but at least Marsch's squad has got a little positive momentum going again.