As captain Sean Davis said after the game, the New York Red Bulls seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.
A second half finish by birthday boy Andrew Gutman was enough to give New York a 1-0 win over FC Cincinnati on Saturday night. It marks the team’s third straight road victory and extends their unbeaten streak to five games. After a grueling seven games in twenty-one days, Gerhard Struber’s team now sits 9th in the conference and five points out of the final playoff spot.
The match started with Struber rolling out an atypically conventional 4-2-3-1 formation, with youngsters Wiki Carmona, Omir Fernandez, and Frankie Amaya buzzing around underneath striker Patryk Klimala. With Kyle Duncan out due to yellow card suspension and John Tolkin earning a much-needed rest, fullbacks Tom Edwards and Andrew Gutman made for a more restrained backline.
The match was largely dominated by the Red Bulls, who outshot Cincinnati 17-6 but once again struggled to find the ultimate breakthrough. Klimala was active and the closest member of the lineup to paydirt, nearly converting on several unorthodox shot attempts in the first twenty minutes as well as multiple breakaway chances that were handled nervously by Cincinnati goalie Przemysław Tytoń.
But with the game still scoreless at the half, Struber chose to spark an impetus in his squad with the substitution entries of Caden Clark and Tolkin at the start of the second period. Initially the team’s intensity seemed to drop in the opening 15-20 minutes of the half. But a dire Cincinnati team that was only five days separated from the dismissal of manager Jaap Stam rarely threatened the New York goal, and eventually conceded the winner.
As the team dragged Cincinnati’s tired legs to the right side of the field where Cristian Cásseres controlled the ball, Andrew Gutman - a Midwest native who scored in front of his family on his 25th birthday - burst up the opposite touchline, where Cásseres found him with a carefully-measured through ball to collect and slot past Tyton for a 1-0 lead in the 73rd minute.
Gutman would follow the custom of celebrating quietly against a Cincinnati team he left last year, and the Red Bulls would quietly close out proceedings against the limp Ohio side to collect a crucial three points that keeps them well within playoff possibility. Gerhard Struber was giddy enough about the gritty road victory in his post-game presser to blurt out that his favorite Red Bull color was yellow.
“I think this was always a good key in our hands, in our spirits, and our togetherness is always on the right way and now, we realize in away games the right results,” said the Austrian post-match.
“Now, we have a fifth game without a loss, the next win and my boys understand more and more how important resilience is in difficult moments and also, that you never give up in a game like that. I think I told my boys that we need to take a long breath and we need in the end, maybe the goal in the last minute.”
“We have to believe in that, and I think the whole team worked hard in this direction with a big focus in rest defense with a good focus in our structure and in our behavior when we come on the ball and win the ball. I think we can always improve something especially today - we can play transitions cleaner and clearer and, in the end, with more success I think we have to improve that more, but right now we are so happy with these three points.”
While recounting how his players “left everything on the field”, Struber had special praise for his captain Sean Davis for his ability to play every minute of the stretch and the way his personality and character helped guide the young team out of difficult form.
“It’s a great feeling right now. You know, we have had an up and down season, and things were tough during the late summer, and we had a lot of honest dialogue about what we needed to do to get back on track and it was not easy at times, but I am really proud about how the group has grown throughout the year.”
But Davis reminded observers that the team cannot rest on the recent good form and must maintain their focus and urgency as the playoff hunt continues against Miami next weekend after a week of rest.
“The message to the group has been the same every game is important. You cannot look too far ahead; you have to take it one game at a time and go after the three points. We are not happy with losing, we are not happy with ties.”
“The win is a great feeling right now, we can enjoy it for a day or two, but it is important to turn the page and be ready for the weekend.”