“Physically, we were a little bit manhandled, and looked overwhelmed”: New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch did not try to put much of a sugarcoating on his team’s latest road loss. RBNY went to Children’s Mercy Park to play Sporting Kansas City on May 3, and got sent back East with a 2-0 loss.
The Red Bulls had little choice but to take their medicine, with Marsch admitting his selection for the game had been influenced by factors other than winning it:
“We knew going into the game that it was going to be about physically being up for the challenge. Obviously we had to play a makeshift lineup to get through this week the right way and go down to Philly and get what we think are going to be some important intra-conference points.”
A makeshift lineup indeed: RBNY made six changes to the team that had started against Chicago Fire on April 29.
Those changes included the unexpected decision to put Sal Zizzo at center-back.
The improvised defense held its own, more or less, for the first 45 minutes - but there had been signs in the first half that KC could get into positions from which goals will come more often than not.
RBNY had chances too, and if either Sal Zizzo or Fredrik Gulbrandsen had enjoyed a little more luck in the first half, perhaps the game would have ended differently.
But the trip to KC was always going to be tough, and the home team asserted itself almost immediately from the re-start. Dom Dwyer took advantage of some ineffective RBNY defending to put Sporting KC up a goal in the 46th minute.
Post-match, KC’s veteran defender Matt Besler said Dwyer had called his shot:
In the huddle at halftime before we started the second half, one of the things we talked about was trying to get an early goal, and then that was going to change the game and open the other team up. As soon as we said that, Dom looked at everybody and said that he was going to score in the very first minute. We kind of looked around and smiled, but then he scored.
In the 68th minute, Dwyer found another gap in the Red Bulls’ back line and added a second.
The KC striker’s wife, USWNT regular Sydney Leroux Dwyer, knows a thing or two about scoring goals - and was at the stadium to see her husband quiet the Red Bulls.
When your baby daddy scores 2... pic.twitter.com/vl1Z60HWGc— Sydney Leroux Dwyer (@sydneyleroux) May 4, 2017
Jesse Marsch found a few positives in his post-match comments:
I could focus on negative, but I'm going to focus on positive. The positive is for me that Amir Murillo played in the game and played quite well which shows that he can handle a game like that. A big step forward for him. Fredrik Gulbrandsen until he had to come out, I thought put a lot into the game, won a lot of little duels and I thought was a little bit unlucky not to get us the lead at 1-0. So his performance too continues to show that's someone we can count on and then Aaron Long for me. It's a shame that Dom Dwyer got two goals because Aaron did so well against him, I thought.
It was Murillo’s first-team debut: difficult circumstances for the young Panamanian, but he handled his assignments well enough. And Gulbrandsen has the pace to hurry defenders and force mistakes - though he has yet to demonstrate the finishing to capitalize on the chances he can earn for himself.
Luis Robles had the captain’s armband for the night and put in a characteristically strong performance in his 150th consecutive MLS start.
The Red Bulls will find plenty of lessons to be learned from the game, and there were encouraging individual moments, but the makeshift team did not gel and was not able to seriously test a well-drilled, confident and coherent KC.
Ultimately, Marsch and RBNY probably got what they wanted out of the match: no apparent injuries and some rest for key players. The lineup tipped the Red Bulls’ hand: they were looking past this game and ahead to the weekend’s match against Philadelphia Union. Marsch said as much himself, quickly pivoting to thoughts about the Union while the dust was still settling on the result in KC:
We know that is always a challenge because Philly, as much as they're having a tough year, they always play well against us. They're always prepared and they're desperate, so it's not going to be easy, so we'll have to figure out which guys from here can regenerate and we'll have some fresher legs ready to go for that one.
Thanks to Toronto FC beating Orlando the same night the Red Bulls were losing to KC, RBNY’s position in the Eastern Conference was unaffected by the loss: the team remains second, two points behind OCSC.
Points against Philadelphia were prioritized over a result in KC, and that puts the pressure on Marsch and RBNY to finish the task they set for themselves. Whatever disappointment there might be over the 2-0 loss, it was achieved with the broader intention of fielding a strong and rested core group against the Union on May 6. This result will quickly be forgotten if the next game delivers three points.