The New York Red Bulls first-ever win against Vancouver Whitecaps could hardly have come at a better time. Matches between RBNY and the 'Caps are generally irrelevant - so much so that the Red Bulls have lost to Vancouver at Red Bull Arena in each of their Shield-winning seasons. RBNY has never really needed points from the 'Caps, and seemed to stop bothering to try to get them after 2012 (three straight RBNY losses against Vancouver from 2013 to 2015).
But this year, the Red Bulls could use the points. It's late in the season, there aren't many games left to play, and the Eastern Conference is a tight race that will likely be decided by a slim margin.
It's not the case that RBNY marched to Vancouver and seized three points. The points were largely allowed to fall the Red Bulls' way because the 'Caps couldn't finish their chances. But it doesn't much matter how the points are won. RBNY needed something out of this game and got a little more than was perhaps expected. We've seen the Red Bulls play better and come away with nothing; sometimes, a little bit of luck is due.
The team won't want to hang its hat on this performance, but the three points won do keep RBNY in the hunt for the place it does want its hat to be hanging at the end of the regular season: one of the top two spots in the Eastern Conference standings.
On to the next one. But first, three thoughts:
1. Bradley. Wright. Phillips.
The difference between RBNY and the 'Caps on the night was that one team had Erik Hurtado up front...
Hurtado's struggles in front of goal continue. pic.twitter.com/wEpxYKHJcZ— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) September 4, 2016
...and the other had BWP.
BWP does what BWP does best. 1-0 RBNY. pic.twitter.com/JyxM4Ol4gZ— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) September 4, 2016
This game was a shoot-out masquerading as a close affair. The 1-0 scoreline masked a free-for-all that might just as easily have been 4-3, to either team.
The winner was the team that had the more reliable finisher. And that was BWP.
2. Attack is the best form of defense
The reason this match was only RBNY's second road win of this season is because RBNY has been terrible at holding on to leads away from home. This is a problem the coaching staff is well aware of and there have been several tactical tweaks over the course of the year in an effort to reverse the trend of losing winning positions on the road.
Jesse Marsch's preferred strategy for holding a lead used to be five-at-the-back, but his confidence in that approach took a hit when RBNY coughed up a succession of promising positions while trying to absorb pressure with an extra defender.
Over the last few matches, Marsch seems to have hit on a new plan: attack as the best form of defense. Against D.C. United, he refreshed his front line with Daniel Royer and Gonzalo Veron. Neither sub was deployed until after the lead had already been lost - and Veron's entrance to the game was no more than a tactic to kill the clock in injury time - but it was still notable that faced with lost momentum, Marsch's response was to re-stock the attack.
Against New England Revolution, he did it again - this time at home, with a one-goal lead. Omer Damari joined the game in the 64th minute for Mike Grella; Daniel Royer arrived in the 83rd minute for Alex Muyl; Veron once again came in to kill time at the end, subbing in for BWP in the 89th minute. RBNY won, 1-0.
And in Vancouver, Marsch took a similar approach. Muyl subbed out in the 66th minute for Royer (the lead had arrived about 15 minutes earlier); then Damari came in for Dax McCarty, with Felipe dropping back to the Captain's position; finally, Veron arrived in the 89th minute for Grella.
Unfortunately for Marsch, if this is the new plan - take the lead, then gradually refresh the attack to ensure the team is pressuring high up the field throughout the game - he may need a new one for the next game. Muyl and Grella both got yellow cards in Vancouver and will sit out the Red Bulls' next match with accumulation suspensions. Marsch will probably have to play Royer and Damari from the start (or maybe Veron, if he hasn't completely fallen out of favor), and doesn't seem to have enough attacking bodies left on the bench to repeat his newfound favorite tactic.
So having found what was starting to look like the hold-a-lead plan he has been seeking all season, Marsch may have to find some new tricks when DC comes to Red Bull Arena next week.
3. Long black pants
Luis Robles was an uncertain starter for this game, but managed to get himself back to the fitness level required to make the lineup. And during his accelerated rehabilitation program he acquired a pair of long black pants.
If you're not familiar with the role of Paul Grafer's long black pants in this twice-named club's history, MetroFanatic.com has you covered.
And if you are, then it was surely pleasing to see one club legend pay tribute to another.