The New York Red Bulls’ hunt for a playoff spot took an interesting twist with the news that Gerhard Struber is suspended for tonight’s match against Atlanta United.
The Austrian manager received his third yellow card of the season for celebrating Fábio’s stoppage time goal against CF Montréal. His previous infractions came through referee disputes in Atlanta and away at Montréal earlier this year. In his stead, assistants Bradley Carnell and Bernd Eibler will lead the team in a joint capacity.
The Red Bulls will be forced to play a crucial fixture without the charismatic leader. While joining the group celebration was a feel-good moment born from a long period of struggle, Struber must now deal with the unforeseen consequences of his actions. The great moment has been tempered by the harsh reality that one of the two remaining chances for playoff qualification is to be contested without his presence and expertise on the sideline.
This is not the first time Struber’s trademark exuberance has drawn the ire of a governing body. In October of 2019, proceedings boiled over during a match against SK Rapid Wien. After a projectile was allegedly thrown from the VIP stand, the manager confronted the stadium announcer and “clashed with the opposing coaching staff,” ultimately receiving a yellow card. According to writer Anna Konovalova, he was fined for his actions.
New York should scarcely miss a step under the temporary leadership of two eminently capable assistants. The well-regarded Eibler was considered an up-and-comer in Austria before moving to Major League Soccer. His sideline machinations and clear status as Struber’s right-hand advisor are apparent to even the most casual observer of the club. Now he receives his first opportunity to call the shots from the technical area, a potential first step up the ladder for the 27-year-old at an organization that prides itself on youth and innovation.
As if by kismet, this comes an almost too appropriate time for Carnell. The South African is currently being interviewed to lead upcoming expansion side St. Louis City SC, set to begin playing in 2023. After years as an assistant, he briefly assumed the interim manager role for 14 matches last season following the departure of Chris Armas.
Under Carnell’s leadership, the Red Bulls reeled off several key results and clinched a spot in the playoffs. Players praised his coaching, noting a stronger sense of positioning and uplifted confidence. While the situation is wholly different one year later, with established tactics and personnel fully in place, the task remains the same: qualify for the playoffs.
The timing of opportunity cannot be overlooked. Prior to hiring Struber, Carnell received “a shot” and was considered “a candidate for the role” by head of sport Kevin Thelwell but was clearly not considered a priority candidate. With the eyes of St. Louis firmly affixed on the match, he has the potential to prove last season’s success was not a fluke and once again deliver for the Red Bulls. The club’s loyal servant could be responsible for two consecutive playoff qualifications, jump-starting his career from an assistant role to leading MLS’ newest club.
Sports can be cruel and punish the undeserving. The dreary summer was overcome due to a combination of mentality and long-term building, which could culminate in previously unimagined playoff qualification with three points against Atlanta United. While significantly responsible for the crop, Struber may be unable to savor the fruits of his labor, forced to become a member of the captive audience as the clock climbs to 90 minutes.