The last New York Red Bulls home game of the year was emblematic of just about everything that’s characterized the team’s up-and-down 2021 campaign.
The Red Bulls played conference rivals Atlanta United to 0-0 draw on a chilly Wednesday night in Harrison as New York dominated the run of play but again were unable to turn on the goal faucet. With head coach Gerhard Struber suspended for yellow card accumulation following his buoyant goal celebration last week and 27-year-old assistant Bernd Eibler (working as possibly the youngest manager in league history for one night at least) filling in on the touchline, the Red Bulls outshot Atlanta 15-2 but the single point earned leaves the team still needing results to go their way on season-ending Decision Day on Sunday.
Despite the flat result, the game itself was an impressive smothering of an Atlanta team that has been rounding into form over recent weeks under new manager Gonzalo Pineda. New York got the first several of their twelve corner kicks in the opening ten minutes as the team barraged the Atlanta goal with fullbacks John Tolkin and Kyle Duncan (operating out of a 4-man backline that contrasts with recent Struber lineups) creating the most danger. Though Atlanta would intermittently attempt counter attacks, the New York press largely neutralized any exit play attempted by the Georgia side.
It certainly had the feel of a rivalry game, with frequent physical confrontations and even a moment where New York ignored a customary throw-back to Atlanta following an injury break. Referee Alan Kelly called the game tightly, perhaps preventing the Red Bulls from raising the tempo so key to their play. The second half largely played out on the same terms, especially with Eibler and Carnell choosing not to make substitutions until after the 80th minute. New York cycled the ball around the Atlanta goal with more fluidity than typical of this injury-riddled transition year, but didn’t find the breakthrough they needed. Patryk Klimala came closest with a breakaway chance snuffed out by Brad Guzan in the 52nd minute just moments after a volley attempt the Polish youth international blasted off the crossbar, but the game closed with the trademark Carlos Coronel save on Atlanta’s only direct shot in stoppage time, securing a single point but leaving the Red Bulls still needing things to go their way on the weekend to make playoffs.
“I think if we play the same way we did today, I have all the confidence we’ll get the result (against Nashville)” said midfielder Dru Yearwood post-match.
“From minute one it was pure domination, but there’s no excuses for not getting the goal we needed.”
Gerhard Struber, handling the postgame press conference just minutes after his suspension ended, expressed similar concerns with the team’s “not 100% sexy” finishing form but praised his coaching staff for handling the game in such a competent fashion.
“I have a big compliment for my boys and my coaching team. We dominate all phases of the game, we show so much discipline in our match plan.”
But Struber, who said to fans in his end-of-season speech that the team is “ready for the big next step” after an up and down 2021, expressed confidence that the team’s identity will be their advantage over Nashville and all teams going forward.
“We have to be critical with ourselves about our inability to score chances - this is the main point we have to improve. But our identity, our special style of play helps us so much, it kills any hope and this is what we must do on Sunday.”