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Orlando 1-2 Red Bulls: Fábio winner settles thrilling slugfest in Florida

Gerhard Struber earns first road win as young team grows in confidence

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Orlando City SC
Fábio continued his stellar first season in MLS with the decisive goal in Orlando on Saturday night
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Look out Major League Soccer, the New York Red Bulls are learning how to win on the road too.

Goals from Cristian Cásseres and Fábio Gomes Netto were enough to cancel out a Chris Mueller equalizer as the Red Bulls beat Orlando City 2-1 on Saturday night at Exploria Stadium. Carlos Coronel saved a penalty late in the first half as New York grinded its way to three points against one of the league’s top sides and solidified its position in the logjam building at the top of the Eastern Conference.

After growing in confidence from last week’s gritty road draw in Atlanta, Struber’s team rolled out what felt like a first-choice lineup for the first time in weeks as Cásseres returned from Copa America duty with Venezuela to immediately slot into a side that went back to its preferred 4-4-2. In a move that manager Gerhard Struber acknowledged was meant to generate easier pressing and better transition moments, Cásseres and fellow Venezuelan attacking midfielder Wiki Carmona lined up wide in a midfield formation that was flatter than the typical diamond sitting behind Fabio and Patryk Klimala.

Cásseres’ return and the adjusted formation paid dividends almost immediately, giving the Red Bulls a dream start. In the 6th minute Cásseres, who confidently dribbled and penetrated down Orlando’s left side all evening, moved centrally where he gathered the ball near the top of the box and ripped a left-footed blast past Orlando backup keeper Brandon Austin to put New York up 1-0.

The remainder of the first half would largely turn Orlando’s way as the home side sought to claw back into the game. Waves of chances were created largely from wide areas, eventually with one drawing a near-breakthrough for Orlando. A penalty was (somewhat dubiously) called on Tom Edwards for appearing to push on Mauricio Pereyra from behind during a cross into the box from Nani. Red Bulls keeper Carlos Coronel, who had settled into the game with a series of saves from open play, would stuff Pereyra on the spot kick, giving the team much-needed momentum going into the half.

The second period began somewhat flatter than the active first half. But that changed when a loose dribble out of pressure by Red Bulls defender Sean Nealis saw Orlando turn the ball around for Chris Mueller to fire home an equalizer in the 59th minute. Though New York would regroup against a charging home side, the following passages of play appeared to show a game destined for a draw, especially after a series of unsuccessful conversions by Patryk Klimala.

But Klimala would play a key role in the goal that sealed the victory for New York. Klimala flicked a somewhat quiet forward pass from Dru Yearwood into the path of strike partner Fábio, who slotted home to put the Red Bulls in the driver’s seat. The team cool-headedly dumped and chased the ball through the final stretches of play (including seven minutes of stoppage time) to secure a landmark first road victory of 2021.

Catching his breath following what was likely a passionate victory speech, manager Gerhard Struber further burnished his company man status by sipping a can of Red Bull to begin the post-match press conference.

“I need (the sips) to get my energy back. I’m so excited with this win, with the way we played in our principles. We showed a big togetherness against a massive opponent.”

Midfielder Dru Yearwood mentioned that it was not easy to spend so much of the game defending a lead against an eager Orlando team, but said that Struber got the gameplan “spot on” and that the team hopes to build on the landmark result. “We have to keep this confidence the same way and make sure we don’t lose our identity. When we’re playing at home, we make the place ours and now we showed we can do that on the road as well.”

Like his manager, Yearwood also gestured to the press conference camera with a Red Bull can when asked what pushed them past a fighting Orlando side. Far evolved from the days of the town hall where Jesse Marsch sheepishly outlined his plans to play like an energy drink, this is a team that is increasingly confident in its identity and approach. Gerhard Struber was installed to make this team look more like its European sibling clubs than ever before, and the results are starting to show for his young, taurine-infused side in a big way.