HARRISON, N.J. – Jesse Marsch was surely asleep, but perhaps the ruckus in Harrison woke him up. While it was the wee hours of Thursday morning in Leipzig, Germany, Brian White basked in the glow of a 55th minute, match-winning goal on Wednesday night in Red Bull Arena.
White was one part of the bigger picture, a changed line-up for New York: one disgruntled player who had logged more minutes in the World Cup than he did in Major League Soccer, another making his first MLS start and two appearing in their inaugural match with the first team, along with a couple other non-regulars.
No drop-off was evident. The team did what it had done three days prior: win 1-0, the sixth one-goal win in 11 matches under Chris Armas. It was a result that was dutifully taken care of, in a manner that was emblematic of the vision behind the club’s reinvention three-and-a-half years ago. The man who dreamed it was, poetically, dreaming when it came to fruition.
“In the middle of the night somewhere, Jesse Marsch has to be proud, because this has been the push, this is who we are,” Armas said after the win.
The Red Bulls philosophy is no mystery: the team operates fast, with a demanding work rate, counter-pressing opposition into submission. What made the victory over the Houston Dynamo so vindicating was not that the team won, but who the team won with, or without.
At the start of the second half, team-leading scorers Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer, and league-leading assist provider Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra, watched from an unfamiliar setting: the bench. It was the fourth match in 12 days, and a flight to Montreal awaited in less than 48 hours.
Ninety feet behind them, two fans began to squeal, ‘We want Bradley!’. These were young fans, kids; the act was harmless, but the irony was still rich. This was a team exhibiting everything wonderful about its cutting-edge player integration, seamlessly inserting six underused players into the starting 11, but the youngsters still wanted the recognizable forward.
Less than 10 minutes later, when Alex Muyl chased down a deflected cross that was rolling toward the end-line and slid in the vital pass to White, the two chanting for Wright-Phillips were among the 15,042 who celebrated White’s first MLS goal. Somewhere in the arena was White’s family and close friends, from Flemington, N.J., and tears were shed.
It was a humble goal, aligned with the mission that has defined the Red Bulls in the post-Thierry Henry Era: work hard, honor the system, and your chance will come. No person has embraced that more than the polarizing winger that set up the winning goal.
“He’s a Red Bulls player, he’s a philosophy player, he gives everything to the team,” Armas said of Muyl after the match. “And, when you look at everything that he does; I mean, to the hydration testing results, his name is always at the top. He just really cares about the little things, he loves the team. And, he’s one of the guys that suffers, for the team.”
Meanwhile, in the center of midfield, an 18-year-old Venezuelan, Cristian Cásseres Jr., was overcoming multiple barriers: from age, to language, to speed of play. Alongside him was a 19-year-old American, Tyler Adams, already advanced enough in his development to the point that he was able to guide the young Cásseres Jr.
“It’s cool because, he kind of looks to me for some advice at times in the game,” Adams said after the match. “And I’m like, ‘Come on Cristian, do this, do that.’ Obviously, I’m not speaking Spanish to him, so I’m trying to translate as best as possible.”
“And, you know, I was given an opportunity at a young age as well,” Adams went on to say. “And, I think that it’s really cool for him now to get an opportunity at such a young age.”
Two teenagers, both flourishing for a team that, with the victory, leaped over Atlanta United for first place in MLS. Adams aided Cásseres Jr., similar to how 25-year-old teammate Sean Davis – who migrated to a central attacking position seamlessly on the night – learned from former teammate and captain Dax McCarty.
Perhaps more meaningful than even the result, Cásseres Jr.’s talent and demeanor suggested that if Adams departs for Europe this winter, the product of Deportivo La Guaira in Caracas is capable of thriving.
No contribution from Cásseres Jr. was bigger on Wednesday night than his sliding recovery tackle in the 73rd minute, when Dynamo forward Mauro Manotas was able to spin away from Tim Parker on the wing, threatening the Red Bulls’ one-goal lead. The moment combined everything exemplary from Cásseres Jr.’s debut: his physicality, his alertness, and the ground he was able to cover.
“He looked like a young pro,” Armas said after the match. “You know, one of his best qualities is that he’s fearless. He’s fearless, and he counter-presses, and he’s a philosophy player. We knew it would be interesting-slash-enjoyable to watch him next to Tyler; two guys that are fearless, that are going to go after it.”
A bench made up of starting 11-caliber players was warming up in front of the South Ward when Muyl made his instinctual dart to the end-line. However, when White tapped the ball into the net, the goal all but clinched a much-needed rest for Wright-Phillips, Royer and Gamarra, ahead of a fifth match in 15 days.
The win was further validation to the prophetic idea that was initially met with backlash in Jan. 2015. To ignore global stars in the biggest sports market in the world and develop a culture predicated on a single philosophy was unfathomable. Now, on pace for the best season in club history, it is hard to imagine the Red Bulls any other way.
“I feel like, if you fit our philosophy, then it’s not hard to get along with the guys on the field,” Adams stated after the match. “It’s so many little details that you have to understand. You know, whether it’s ideas like counter-pressing or keeping the net in place, that translates to how we are going to play.”
“So, it could be a mannequin out there, if he knows how to counter-press, then, it fits what we’re going to do,” Adams said with a laugh.