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Woodwork and wonder-saves leave Daniel Royer cursing his luck

New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 loss to Chicago Fire provided a stark reminder of what the team has been missing so far in MLS 2018: goals from Daniel Royer.

Daniel Royer had three shots, two of which were on-goal, in the Red Bulls 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire on Saturday.
Photo by Sean Barry/Once A Metro Photographer

It is becoming a regular occurrence to see Daniel Royer apoplectic after a miscalculated final-third pass, or a shot-attempt that strays high or wide. That is the type of player Royer is: captivating, but also, demanding of himself.

Now, in his second full season with New York, Royer is still goalless in 2018 MLS play, despite sending two promising shots toward goal in the Red Bulls 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Red Bull Arena.

His struggle is a metaphor for the team’s frustrations early this season, with the 27-year-old winger displaying abundant quality, but, with a frustrating and uncharacteristic lack of composure in key moments.

“I have to fight through this, we all have to,” Royer said after the match. “It’s good that we create chances, but we have to take them. And, of course it was unlucky, but we’re not looking for excuses, even though it was, yeah, pretty unlucky today, with the offside goal, the crossbar and some really good saves.”

Royer puts his arms up in exasperation after a missed opportunity.
Photo by Sean Barry/Once A Metro Photographer

Last week, against Montreal, it was Royer’s own finishing that kept him out. This week, it was Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez, who made nine saves, including a double-save on Royer and Alejandro Gamarra in the 35th and 36th minute.

Royer has a combination of strength and agility that makes him a unique and dangerous winger. Last season, in 1,868 minutes, Royer registered 12 league goals, which was second only to club talisman Bradley Wright-Phillips, who had 17. Furthermore, Royer’s goals accounted for 23 percent of the team’s scoring, and, if you add in his three assists, he was directly involved in 28 percent of the Red Bull’s regular-season goals. So far, in 2018, the percentage for involvement in both goals and assists is zero.

Losing that degree of goal-scoring can certainly hurt a team, especially in the early stages of a season in which the Red Bulls are also trying to account for the loss of another 11 percent of their goals from last year, in Gonzalo Veron. And while emerging squad players like Florian Valot and Derrick Etienne Jr., along with Gamarra, can account for the production of Veron in front of goal, what the current squad cannot account for is a Royer who does not break double-digits in scoring, with a few assists sprinkled in.

If the summer months begin to creep in and Royer is only on one or two goals, expect the Red Bulls to still be hovering around the playoff line as a team, with the front office thinking about a wing addition that can stimulate the offense in the summer. Playing a one-striker system means additional goal production needs to come from at least one other source other than the main forward, and if Royer cannot be the answer in 2018, the answer may need to come from elsewhere.

Now, Royer may be able to find his form, and if that is the case, the team can ride the Austrian, as long as he stays fit, all the way through the stretch-run of the season. But, the Red Bulls need the real Royer to stand up, and soon.

Royer showed no signs of the goal-drought affecting his confidence after the loss, and again, Saturday was more a case of impeccable goalkeeping from Sanchez than poor execution in front of goal. Furthermore, Royer has only played in four of the Red Bulls six MLS games this season, which is too small a sample size to conclude he will not return to the form of last season.

These next couple games for Royer will be massively important, with the need to open his account becoming paramount, with a marquee Los Angeles Galaxy and crosstown-rival New York City FC upcoming.

Two seasons ago, Wright-Phillips broke out of a similar goal-scoring slump and erased question marks with a two-goal performance in the famous 7-0 win over NYCFC at Yankee Stadium on May 21, 2016. Perhaps in 2018, Royer can do the same, as the chances have been created as of late. The only thing that has been missing is the finishing touch.

“I don’t think it’s a confidence thing,” Royer said. “It would be really bad if I don’t create anything. I mean, you’re right that it didn’t work out with a lot of goals and assists so far. But it will come some time. You don’t know when it’s happening -- And, yeah, stay focused, keep fighting through it, still try to create something, work hard, and then it will come. I hope sooner [rather] than later.”