After four games without a win and looking ahead at back-to-back league games on the road, this was the match for the New York Red Bulls to get back into the win column. A solid performance against Toronto FC had snapped a losing streak of three games and brought some well-earned confidence back to the team. But to prove the club is on the right trajectory, the Red Bulls needed to cap a difficult run of games with a win at home. And that is what they did, picking up a 2-1 victory over New England Revolution at Red Bull Arena to cue a celebration of three points with the home crowd for the first time since April 29.
The win was perhaps a little sweeter for RBNY because the game hadn’t started well at all. Early in the first half, Diego Fagundez got away from the defense and was felled inside the penalty area by Damien Perrinelle’s attempt to shut down the danger.
Lee Nguyen scored from the spot; the Revs were 1-0 up inside the first 10 minutes.
But the Red Bulls had the better of the rest of the first half in every aspect of the game but the score, and went in at half-time down a goal but perhaps a little ahead of their opponents in terms of confidence.
And the second half started perfectly. RBNY equalized in the 47th minute.
RBNY’s first goal owed a lot to Daniel Royer’s lurking presence in the area giving Revs’ ‘keeper Cody Cropper just enough to think about that he had to rush to gather the ball he’d spilled, and flubbed his second attempt to gather it. And it owed most of all to Bradley Wright-Phillips’ quick thinking, so quick he couldn’t quite remember how the play unfolded.
I think he fumbled it at first in front of him and I was shouting at someone to get the rebound, when I looked around him it was behind me. It was a weird one, I need to watch it again.
Here you go, sir:
Oh dear... Cropper... It's all square now. BWP equalizes. pic.twitter.com/DrB57rs88s— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 28, 2017
It seemed like BWP came of out nowhere to back-heel the ball past into the net, and he clearly had much the same impression. But his 75th MLS regular-season goal for RBNY, 83rd for the team in all competitions, seventh in all competitions against the Revs, and sixth of MLS 2017 won’t easily be forgotten, even if he finds it difficult to remember how he got to it.
But Kemar Lawrence was RBNY’s man of the match: putting out fires at the back and still finding opportunity to get forward and cause problems in the attacking third. He set up both the Red Bulls’ goals with sharp, low crosses into the six-yard box.
Lawrence was a man on a mission to make sure that the Red Bulls was going to take a lead, tracking back to shut down the Revs’ efforts to counter and surging forward to support his team in attack. In the 74th minute, he produced a near-identical cross to the one that had provoked Cropper’s earlier slip-up. This time, the ball zipped between ‘keeper and back line to find Daniel Royer on the far side of goal.
Lovely ball from Kemar Lawrence and Royer sweeps it home to give RBNY a 2-1 lead! pic.twitter.com/ppJpnP9WAg— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 28, 2017
Whether this was RBNY’s best performance of the season to date can be debated. There should be no debating that this was Lawrence’s best performance of 2017 - and that is in the context of what has been a series of dominating outings for the left-back. Post-match, Red Bulls’ head coach Jesse Marsch was in no doubt that this game was a high-point for his team and for Kemar Lawrence:
Yeah, I think that's our best game. And if you go through Kemar, I think Kemar has been if not our best player then one of our best players this year.
He started out slow, had a couple personal things he had to fight through with his family. But, my gosh, he's playing the best he's ever played. It's just a series of consecutive games that he takes care of things defensively first, then finds a way to be dangerous in the attack and make some plays. It's great to see.
Despite all the positives to emerge from this game, there are still some obvious issues the team needs to address. Veteran center-back Damien Perrinelle has now conceded penalties in consecutive games, for example.
The Red Bulls have found ways to keep those penalties from hurting them too much, but a team that is consistently giving its opponents a free shot on goal is going to have a hard time stringing together the results it wants. With the team seemingly turning a corner, Marsch doesn’t want to see a veteran defender sink into self-doubt:
Now, we have to stop making mistakes that hurt us too much. We consider penalties set pieces. So it's another set piece goal that we've given up. We're not happy with that.
But I made a statement to Damien, for sure, that we're all with him, and he's got to find a way to fight his way through this because he's an important guy around here and we need him. He can't go into a hole and he can't feel sorry for himself.
The win surely makes the task of analyzing the team’s issues a little easier than it was when results were less positive. The Red Bulls are on the road next week, heading to Montreal to test themselves against the team that eliminated them from last year’s playoffs. And then they will prepare to face New York City FC in US Open Cup at Red Bull Arena.
This is definitely not the time for any RBNY players to go into a hole.