Chris Armas came back to New York with a new club “committed to winning” and a fresh difference-making designated player to debut...and still fell to the club he was dismissed from last year, the New York Red Bulls. A first half strike from Frankie Amaya and a second half tap-in by Caden Clark was enough to put a new-look Red Bulls side past Toronto FC and the man who was managing the team less than a year ago.
Armas was booed loudly as the lineup cards were announced and cut largely a reserved figure on the touchline during the afternoon. The game began with a back-and-forth of chances as Toronto left space in the back while attempting to get on the front foot. A headed chance by Brian White in the opening five minutes was followed by a series of passages where attempts by the New York backline to combine with goalkeeper Carlos Coronel rather than clear the ball led to multiple Toronto attacks. However a Toronto attack running almost entirely through the 33-year-old Michael Bradley never showed the cutting edge required to get past a now-solidifying Red Bulls defense, even after the introduction of Venezuelan designated player Yeferson Soteldo for his MLS debut in the second half.
The Red Bulls got their breakthrough on the scoreboard in the 31st minute. After Caden Clark chased down the ball immediately after losing possession upfield, he led a composed breakout that ended with Fabio notching his third assist of the year by laying the ball off for Frankie Amaya who smashed past Alex Bono from the top of the box. Toronto’s energy faded considerably after the goal and struggled to regain a footing in the match.
The substitute entry of Daniel Royer (replacing Brian White) appeared to be a signal of intent as the Austrian quickly began collecting long passes and distributing to an onrushing New York attack that started coming in waves. It would be in the 69th minute that the Red Bulls went two ahead and began controlling the match entirely. After a through ball from substitute Dru Yearwood put Fabio through to be snuffed out by the outrushing Bono, the second ball fell to the still-hustling Caden Clark, who easily scored perhaps the least aesthetically pleasing of his now five career MLS goals.
After a physical game with Toronto’s veterans that he claims to have not been too spooked by, Clark noted the team’s dominance in the final stages of the game and credited his manager’s adjustments to the team after sloppy losses in the opening two weeks of the season. “You know that last twenty minutes was all Gerhard,” the Minnesota-born attacking midfielder said post match. “(He’s) great with his energy and keeping us fired up in training. He’s really been focused on getting us sharp over the entire 90 minutes.”
Struber himself was ecstatic about both the result and team’s increasing cohesion while moving into the heart of the season. “I thought our counter-pressing was fantastic and with that and the organization of (the defensive line) shows we are very good in our progress.”
When asked about the team’s stuttering first half including the errant passing between Coronel and his defenders, Struber turned the difficulties into a positive learning moment. “We have been training in all four phases of the game and in the last two or three weeks I see us taking the next steps to start being able to control games and save our energy when we’re on the ball.”
Midfielder Frankie Amaya gave a mildly poignant comment in noting that “this is only our second game together” as the prospects for New York’s season appear to have turned around considerably after the addition of himself and in-transit striker Patryk Klimala following the team’s losses in the opening two weeks of the season. “We’re a young team who are all willing to work hard. Everybody knows the plan and we execute it.”
The Red Bulls now have a short but perfect record in Eastern Conference play and are finally starting to put results together after an abridged preseason left the new-look side unprepared for early tests. Though Gerhard Struber was emphatic about not wanting to discuss the past surrounding Armas earlier this week, hanging a result on his predecessor will certainly be a poetic early landmark for his re-making of the Red Bulls. The side turns around to close out a three-week homestand against another team still being strained by continental competition, the Philadelphia Union.