After a summer of misfortune, the bounces are finally going the way of The Red Bull.
Fábio flicked a header into Montreal’s goal in stoppage time for a 1-0 win on Saturday night that leaves fate in the hands of Gerhard Struber’s New York Red Bulls team going into the final two games of the playoff race. At publishing time the Red Bulls sat in control of the seventh and final playoff spot (two points ahead of eighth-place DC United) after a game in which New York largely controlled but again had to be patient for a breakthrough score.
On a drizzly fall afternoon in Harrison, Struber yet again rolled out his now-standard 3-5-2 or 3-6-1 formation, this time with Patryk Klimala as a lone striker and Fábio starting from the bench. The first half was a lively one where both teams’ similar formations found space in the other’s final third. Patryk Klimala nearly found the breakthrough immediately after an intercepted outlet pass was distributed to his feet in the box, but he was stuffed by Montreal keeper Sebastian Breza. Montreal would then control much of the opening twenty minutes, with mobile striker Sunisi Ibrahim in particular giving the New York backline fits. In what is becoming bittersweet deja vu for Red Bulls fans, a pair of dramatic Carlos Coronel saves kept things even going into the half, but not before Klimala carved out a series of chances on the Montreal goal to keep the visitors honest.
In the second half, Fabio entered for an off-pace Wikelman Carmona to pair with Klimala as New York spent much of the remainder sieging the Montreal goal. The Brazilian forward’s running and aerial presence made an immediate impact as the team found more of a footing in possession and left Montreal settling for occasional rushed counter-attacks as their only response.
The game changed even more when the showrunners reintroduced Caden Clark to the cast for the dramatic end of the 2021 Red Bulls soap opera. The teenage attacking midfielder entered for Tom Edwards as the team switched to a more conventional 4-2-3-1 and proceeded to spark New York’s combination play in a crowded final third. As the Montreal defense became increasingly stretched, Patryk Klimala was able to stretch his legs on multiple occasions, most notably an attempted half-field shot while goalkeeper Breza played a high position.
But it was Klimala’s last breakout run that saved the team from a deflating draw they had been staring at as the game winded down. Chasing and collecting an Andres Reyes clearance down the right channel following a Montreal counter, the Polish youth international crossed to the back post, where Clark cushioned the ball down for the 6’4” Brazilian to crane his neck low to flick a header over Breza to give New York an emotional, potentially-season-saving winning goal.
Gerhard Struber sprinted down the field Jose Mourinho-style to celebrate with Fábio and the team after the winner, and continued his excitement speaking to the press after the match minutes later.
“I think when you show so much belief and work so hard to get this win, it was appropriate for an explosion of emotion like that. I’m very proud.”
“We show so much belief and willingness and an outstanding attitude in winning this game. It was not always easy to find good triggers, Montreal has some key players who make things difficult. But after the first 25-30 minutes we were better in transition moments and had the game in our hands. All the statistics say we were the better team.”
Struber was also complimentary of Caden Clark’s performance saying the playmaker helped find moments when the game became compact in the second half. Clark said that after such a difficult season on a personal level, not overcomplicating his return to the lineup was key.
“We changed formations when I came on, but honestly I just tried to be myself. It’s never easy getting surgery and having to get back to full fitness in the middle of a season, especially with such little game time. But I just tried to be myself and play my game and it worked out.”
Both Clark and goalkeeper Carlos Coronel would say post-match that the team didn’t dwell on the difficult August result against Montreal (featuring the series of re-taken penalties due to VAR) because the Red Bulls team that has rolled out over the last few weeks is a different version of itself.
“We didn’t really think about the last result (against Montreal) because we were a different team back then, really. I think we’ve changed our mentality and shown that when the game is on the line, we’re gonna get the job done.”
Gerhard Struber reiterated this newfound confidence and said it will be crucial heading quickly into another must-win fixture against Atlanta United on Wednesday.
“We have a big confidence and I have a big belief in my boys. We’ve shown our progress in the last few weeks and we know the way we play will not be easy for Atlanta. We have not only the confidence but the conviction that, at home, we will win this game.”