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Red Bulls 2-3 New England: yet another second half collapse

Carmona and Fabio goals cancelled out by second half treble by conference leaders

MLS: New England Revolution at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

As Sean Davis put it post-game, “it feels like the same lesson over and over again.”

Yet again the New York Red Bulls were unable to close out an otherwise lively performance, falling 3-2 to New England Revolution in Harrison on Saturday night. Wiki Carmona and Fábio put the home team ahead with emphatic goals but surrendered successive backline breakdowns to Gustavo Bou, Brandon Bye, and Adam Buksa in the second half.

In the team’s third loss in 2021 to Bruce Arena’s first place New England side, two separate leads were surrendered in the second half before the Revs snagged a messy winner in stoppage time. The match opened with active attacking from both sides before the 18-year-old Carmona turned on the New England midfield to blast a 30 yard shot past goalkeeper Brad Knighton to put the Red Bulls ahead in the 8th minute.

The remainder of the half would become chippy with three yellow cards handed out by Ramy Touchan but New York largely maintained control. The makeshift backline, this night featuring fourth-stringer Amro Tarek and natural fullback Tom Edwards, put in a forceful first half performance against an energetic New England team seeking to claw back into the game.

But the turbulence of the second half began early. After the teams traded waves of attacks, Gustavo Bou collected a centered ball and was able to pick his spot to fire past Carlos Coronel to equalize for New England in the 60th minute. But the Red Bulls responded just two minutes later, with Fábio jumping on a clever Caden Clark flick to scuff a finish past Knighton for his third goal of the season.

However, New York wasn’t able to build on that momentum and let the game slip away. First was New England’s Brandon Bye leaping over the undersized Tom Edwards to equalize. Then in stoppage time a wide open Carles Gil had time to shovel a pass to Adam Buksa as the New York backline attempted an offside trap. A frantic rush of long balls by the Red Bulls during the extended stoppage nearly found an opening on multiple occasions, but the game ended in yet another disappointing result for Gerhard Struber’s team.

“It’s not easy to find the right words for this result. It’s very painful,” said the Austrian in what was a dejected post-game press conference.

“I think we have a big energy and some very good moments but then have yet again big (lessons) one more time. Since the last game, we talked a lot about growing up but again the football business shows us its bad face.”

In explaining the now-9th place Red Bulls slide down the Eastern Conference table, Struber pointed to the team’s injuries and difficult schedule including Saturday’s third match against first place New England, but expressed confidence in his team and his own talents to turn the season around.

“On the mental side, it’s currently a big challenge, but we have to change our feeling on Wednesday (against Cincinnati.) I know from my own experiences at past jobs that I can get these boys back in a winning way.”

Captain Sean Davis repeated Struber’s themes as well as his forlorn perspective on the result.

“It’s a horrible feeling. Yet again we have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves how long it’s going to be if we can prove we can close out games.”

“It was really encouraging to control 80-85-90 percent of the game against a top team like New England, but we know in this league, this conference, that’s not good enough.”

Despite the understandable focus on personal mentality in explaining Saturday’s collapse, the fact remains that the Red Bulls have been decimated by injuries and haven’t been able to put their best team on the field in several weeks. With the game but poorly-suited Tom Edwards continuing to struggle as the team waits for Sean Nealis and Andrés Reyes to return to full fitness, Struber said the team is “very close” on a potential defensive signing ahead of Thursday’s transfer deadline.

There is also a quick potential reprieve in store for the Red Bulls with a somewhat easier opportunity to change the mood coming on Wednesday with 10th place Cincinnati coming to Harrison. But for now, the honeymoon for Gerhard Struber and sporting chief Kevin Thelwell feels definitively over and the team is quickly seeing a once-promising season slip away. Youth and injuries will be an excuse for only so long if the pattern of second-half slippage continues.