The New York Red Bulls friendly against Phoenix Rising FC marked the beginning of the end of their pre-season calendar. After Phoenix, the RBNY first team has one more scrimmage - against Sporting Kansas City on February 14 - and then it has a week of training split between Tucson and Houston before jetting off to Costa Rica to take on Olimpia in CONCACAF Champions League on February 22. And if the team plays its cards right, it’ll play itself into season-opening logjam: beat Olimpia in CCL and the next round of CCL will start for RBNY around the end of the first week of March. With MLS starting up next month, just one more round of CCL will see RBNY set to play seven games in March. As such, it is to be hoped a kick-about in Phoenix as bigger and better things quickly come into view for RBNY. But this game was one of the Red Bulls’ last chances to iron out the kinks in preparation for what they hope will be a strong start to the new season.
The USL’s Phoenix club is well named: it is rising fast in terms of visibility on the national soccer landscape. The team keeps adding high-profile investors - Alex Zheng, already invested in OGC Nice in France, is but the latest - as it fuels its bid for an expansion spot in MLS. On the field against RBNY this time around was Phoenix’s big-name player-investor, Didier Drogba. But he didn’t have a huge impact on a back-and-forth game that was settled with a late, late winner from RBNY’s Fidel Escobar.
The Red Bulls settled the match in second-half stoppage time. Trailing 2-1 as the clock ticked past 90 minutes, RBNY seemed destined to take the loss and move on. But Vincent Bezecourt tied things up: seizing on Derrick Etienne’s blocked shot, surging into the box, and slotting the ball past PRFC’s ‘keeper.
HIGHLIGHTS: #RBNY scored 2 late goals to complete a dramatic 3-2 comeback win vs #PHXRisingFC in the desert tonight.— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) February 11, 2018
NYRB goals: Alex Muyl, Vincent Bezecourt, Fidel Escobar
PHX goals: Own goal (crazy OG!), Kevaughn Frater#PHXvNY #MLS #USL pic.twitter.com/NjdyFbK84R
Seemingly seconds later, the Red Bulls won a free-kick on the edge of the Phoenix penalty area. Felipe, Etienne, Escobar, and Carlos Rivas huddled over the ball - and what they drew up was a memorable finale to an otherwise forgettable friendly. Rivas and Etienne made dummy runs as a screening Felipe rolled the ball back to Escobar - and the Panama international drove a straight-and-true shot through a collapsing scrum of players and into the net. Two goals in two minutes: RBNY wins 3-2.
Great free kick routine by #RBNY for their 93rd minute winner vs #PHXRisingFC. Multiple players ran over the ball, small touch by Felipe, and a powerful blast by Escobar through the broken wall! #PHXvNY #MLS #MLSPreseason pic.twitter.com/ZFaWjCCaFt— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) February 11, 2018
It was an unexpected end to a game the Red Bulls had mostly dominated in every respect except the score. After 90 minutes, it had seemed obvious it wasn’t to be RBNY’s night.
Inside the opening 10 minutes, Aurelien Collin put Phoenix ahead with a mis-judged interception that looped the ball over Luis Robles and into RBNY’s goal.
RBNY tied things up toward the end of the second half, thanks to Kemar Lawrence - a constant threat from the left side of the field - finding Alex Muyl’s head with cross into the six-yard box.
Phoenix didn’t have a lot of the ball and the game would have been out reach for the home team if the Red Bulls had brought their shooting boots with them to Arizona. But RBNY’s second goal proved elusive, and PRFC fashioned the occasional chance on the counter. One such opportunity, in the 71st minute, provided Phoenix with the go-ahead goal. Devin Vega found space in the box, drew Collin to him and played a neat square ball in front of goal; Kevaughn Frater got in front of Amir Murillo for the tap-in.
That had seemed like enough for Phoenix to win the game and send the home fans away with something to celebrate. But Bezecourt and Escobar flipped the script, and it was RBNY who left the field with a smile.
Friendly results don’t matter, but winning does. Jesse Marsch will doubtless be pleased to have a positive result with which to frame what will surely be a lot of post-game commentary for his squad. It’s preseason, the Red Bulls look like they still need some time to get sharp - and they have about 10 days before any lack of sharpness might cost them. A win over Didier Drogba’s ambitious USL squad may perhaps make some of the hard work ahead on the training field a little easier to handle.
Sporting Kansas City is up next for RBNY, on February 14. And then the first team’s next appearance will be in a game that counts for something.