In the 62nd minute of the New York Red Bulls 2017 season-opener - the CONCACAF Champions League game against Vancouver Whitecaps, Bradley Wright-Phillips equalized. With his team struggling through a frustrating game of missed chances, and trailing by a goal, BWP did what BWP does best for RBNY: roofed a chance to get his side on the board.
“I was lucky - it just bounced to me. I thought I missed,” said Wright-Phillips. “I don’t know if you saw...but there was like a delayed reaction because - those balls are different - I kind of just hit it, I went for something else and it flew off my foot. I thought I missed. I didn’t really do much, it just fell to me.”
If you thought after 77 goals in all competitions for RBNY, the club’s all-time leading goal scorer would start to accept some credit for his work - you thought wrong. The team might be concerned about preseason form, but BWP’s preference for modesty and deflection of praise is at its mid-season best.
Or maybe he was just frustrated by a game that saw he Red Bulls able to attack the Whitecaps’ net, able to get down the field, but not quite able to find the final pass or finish - except for BWP’s strike.
Both teams struggled with a lack of sharpness. Vancouver’s go-ahead goal was a sort of tribute to the match’s overall lack of precision. In the 39th minute, Kendall Waston knocked down a corner to a back-to-goal Kekuta Manneh - who tried to flick a header toward goal, but only managed to hit his marker’s shoulder. Fortunately for Vancouver, Justin Bilyeu’s shoulder deflected the ball into the net.
That and BWP’s goal were all the match got, and the teams took a 1-1 draw out of the first leg.
It might have been different if Sacha Kljestan’s penalty kick hadn’t been saved at the start of the second half, but Caps’ ‘keeper David Ousted continues his hold over RBNY’s PK-takers.
In 2015, Ousted was able to stop Bradley Wright-Phillips twice in the same match at Red Bull Arena from the penalty spot. Now he’s three-for-three with penalty saves at RBA over the last three seasons.
For BWP, the issue is clear: “He should not be allowed in this stadium,” he told reporters at RBA. Two years ago, Ousted’s saves started the transition of penalty-taking responsibilities for RBNY from BWP to Kljestan. Wright-Phillips has been in Kljestan’s shoes and wants to see his captain shrug it off and take another one before making any decisions about his future at the penalty spot (Kljestan also missed a PK in RBNY’s last match of 2016: the second leg of the Eastern Conference playoff semifinal that was lost to Montreal Impact).
There were positives in the match. With Damien Perrinelle still working his way back to form and fitness after the off-season and Kemar Lawrence suspended on yellow card accumulation, Justin Bilyeu and Aaron Long got the chance to start in a major competitive game. Neither looked fazed by the experience and both did their jobs well.
The Whitecaps played down a man after the 70th minute, when Cristian Techera was red-carded for a studs-up challenge to Sal Zizzo’s groin. With a man up the Red Bulls couldn’t find that go-ahead goal, and that will be the most troubling aspect of the game for the team, perhaps.
Still, the team stayed mostly true to the 4-2-2-2 it had been working on in preseason, and Jesse Marsch suggested his team wasn’t far away from where he wanted it to be:
I didn't feel like first half we gave much away, as usual you see that there are some counter-attacks in there; especially when we play at home because we have the ball a lot and we're trying to probe and find chances and then if you lose balls and aren't controlling the spaces in the back you can set-up the other way.
You know I think, you could see some really good moments I think with Gonzalo and Brad and then trying to get Sacha involved. Overall, I thought it's a day that doesn't come down to tactics as much as just the flow of the game, going after the game the right way and then making a couple plays.