While it didn’t turn into the blowout that it threatened to be in the first half, the New York Red Bulls picked up yet another three points in their hunt for a playoff spot.
Patryk Klimala scored on one of Inter Miami’s many errors to secure a 1-0 victory for the Red Bulls on Saturday night in Harrison. Though Miami were able to crawl back into the second half, New York’s dominance in the first period was enough to extend their unbeaten run to six games and move into 9th place in the Eastern Conference, just three points out of playoff positioning.
An already poor Inter Miami side came to Hudson County reeling with injuries, having called up defender Aime Mabika from their USL side on a league hardship clause and having only six men on their bench. Meanwhile Gerhard Struber’s well-rested Red Bulls team rolled out in a 4-4-2 with a flat, fluid midfield rather than the early season diamond formation. Tom Edwards stepped back into a center back role with a yellow card suspension keeping Andres Reyes out. Wiki Carmona and Frankie Amaya came into the team as dual 10s with Dru Yearwood and Sean Davis as the holding midfielders underneath.
The Red Bulls wasted no time creating chances in waves against a disjointed Miami side that began arguing with each other and crowding referee Tori Penso early. Amaya in particular combined well with Carmona and withdrawn forward Omir Fernandez as New York largely bypassed Miami’s lethargic midfield of high-priced but poorly-motivated superstars. Though the Florida side were able to reach the New York endline for some corner kicks, they rarely threatened Carlos Coronel’s net in the first half. An exclamation point was put on New York’s dominance in the 23rd minute when captain Sean Davis executed a nimble turn in midfield that left Miami A-lister Gonzalo Higuain crumbling to the grass in a heap to roars from the energetic Red Bull Arena crowd.
However this dominance didn’t turn into production for the Red Bulls until the 25th minute, when the team scored a goal from the textbook of Gerhard Struber’s much-mentioned tactical identity. Andrew Gutman intercepted a desperate Kelvin Leerdam outlet ball with acres of space in front of him, allowing time to find lead striker Patryk Klimala with a simple through ball that the Polish youth international finished past the hapless Miami goalkeeper Nick Marsman easily from close range. It marked the eight goal of the season for the rapidly-improving Klimala. Though the Red Bulls continued threatening before the half (including an Omir Fernandez chance headed off the crossbar) the game took a break with only a one goal lead for Struber’s team.
The second half would be an underwhelming one characteristic of this young Red Bulls team. Multiple contentious calls by referee Penso (on a series of potential handballs and a Miami goal called back for a double-checked offside ruling) as well as minor fisticuffs instigated by petulant Miami players were the main highlights of a more chaotic second period that Sean Davis would say post-match reminded him of a basketball game. A last minute Miami hail mary possession resulted in a clear look on Carlos Coronel’s goal - but yet again the Brazilian loanee could be relied upon to make the save on the game’s final touch. Gerhard Struber was guardedly excited by his team’s progress post-match.
“It’s a very good win against a team with high quality in attack. My backline and my sixes do such a good job. In possession we are able to break lines the way we want, the way we train for. Our fullbacks come in a good direction on both sides of the ball - the overloads we looked for in training happened.”
However Struber would lament the team’s inability to keep their structure in the second half, allowing Miami to slip back into the game, stating “it is sometimes not realistic to have everything in our hands for the full 90 minutes.”
Captain Sean Davis would expand on the team’s second half struggles as a product of the team’s inability to kill off games with a second goal.
“When there’s only a one goal lead and the other team thinks they have a chance late, then they throw long balls and everything at you - it kind of becomes a game of randomness.”
Davis emphasized that playing a complete 90 minutes will be crucial as the team heads into a home stretch with fixtures almost entirely against direct rivals in the table, beginning with a blockbuster home derby matchup with New York City FC next Sunday.
“Every single game is going to be tight and we have to be ready. I think this team has learned so many lessons over the course of this season and it’s up to us to keep putting those lessons together in a strong way.”