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Montreal 2-1 Red Bulls: misfortune continues with bizarre stoppage time penalty

Early lead cancelled out by limp second half closed by unusual penalty process

MLS: New York Red Bulls at CF Montreal
Carlos Coronel saw two successful penalty saves cancelled out by VAR decisions.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

After yet another evening where seemingly every bounce and call went against Gerhard Struber’s makeshift young team, it seems nothing is coming up Red Bull these days.

A bizarre sequence at the end of stoppage time in which CF Montreal was given three attempts to convert a penalty past a formidable Carlos Coronel ended with the club formerly known as the Impact securing a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls at Saputo Stadium. An earlier penalty by Patryk Klimala had put New York in front before halftime, but a series of fitness-motivated substitutions led to the Red Bulls surrendering control of the match, with Sunusi Ibrahim equalizing for Montreal ahead of the closing penalty.

With slightly more personnel flexibility given the return of Sean Nealis to full fitness, Struber deployed a 3-5-2 lineup that kept John Tolkin in his midfield cameo from last week while Cristian Casseres, Frankie Amaya, and Dru Yearwood remained on the bench ahead of fixture congestion later in the month. The match began brightly for the Red Bulls with consistent probing of Montreal’s back third for much of the opening fifteen minutes.

Carlos Coronel’s eventful night began with a miraculous save on a point-blank chance for Montreal’s Mason Toye in the 16th minute before the game began to mellow to the previously front-footed Red Bulls’ disadvantage. But the game was re-awakened in first half stoppage time as a surging Andrew Gutman was clumsily raked down in the box by Montreal defender Aljaz Struna. Patryk Klimala would confidently put home the resulting penalty, but not before his first attempt was strangely nullified by referee Allan Chapman due to inconsequential jockeying by players outside the box - a moment that would foreshadow the later penalty sequence.

With the halftime lead and a condensed run of games ahead on the schedule, Struber made the bold decision to remove Tolkin and the still-recovering Nealis for Casseres, Yearwood and a formation change to the team’s standard 4-4-2 diamond. A quiet opening segment of the second period was blown open in the 71st minute when Montreal substitute Sunusi Ibrahim scored on a header following a broken play begun by Red Bulls center back Amro Tarek (who reportedly would be in Cyprus by now if not for the team’s injury crisis) clumsily whiffing on an aerial clearance.

The two teams would trade soft punches in the game’s final twenty minutes, but in stoppage time the match would be decided by a series of unusual but technically by-the-book decisions by referee Chapman. Tarek would be the catalyst for chaos again as he inadvertently handled the ball during a sliding tackle to block a cross. Tarek would emphatically embrace goalkeeper Carlos Coronel following his save of the resulting penalty...and another one...but neither of the saves counted.

Chapman used VAR technology to overturn both of Coronel’s saves (on a series of Montreal penalty takers using stutter-step motions) on the premise that he jumped off the goal line early. Though Coronel would get a piece of the final penalty taken by Victor Wanyama, the Kenyan international’s shot still found a way into the net to secure a victory for Montreal and more frustration for New York.

“One more time it’s a very big, disappointing night for me, for my boys,” Struber said post-match in a press conference in which the Austrian manager appeared increasingly resigned to a misbegotten 2021 doomed by injuries and the resulting inability for the team to gel.

“I think in the first half, we have many things in our hands and we control many things. Only I think in the middle of the first half I think our wing backs are behind and we have not so good a structure to press, and we have a situation with Nealis, that he is right now back from a long injury and he is not ready for (90 minutes) in a big game.”

Struber refused to complain too much about the bizarre penalty scenario that cost his team one potential point, stating that the result was destined from the team’s loss of control in the second in a tough away fixture.

“In the end the referee make not a great job but in the end I think we have to find more control in this game, and we lose too much of the control. We have not always the momentum in our hands. It switched in the first half and second half and it was very difficult today and we realize the team from Montréal are very good especially on the ground to play very quick. I think we control many times the game, but in the second half, we lose the momentum too much.”

Struber’s team is now four games below .500 and seven points out of a playoff spot despite only a -2 goal differential. As defender Andrew Gutman pointed out post-match the team is “not getting blown away” but putting together complete performances remains difficult.

As the team moves into the season’s second half with mere playoff qualification as a more reserved short-term goal in Struber’s eyes, the Austrian emphasized the need to the team to remain “resilient” as they grow in what Struber sees as a long-term goal of building a stronger, smarter team.

“I think players have a big belief, but the results, like this today, and also the way of this result, it’s clear that everyone is extremely disappointed and it’s not always so easy to find the right or special variety in the dressing room. I think it’s very, very important for us to be very close together. Find a good mindset for the game on Wednesday. Right now, we have to reflect on it, and to be very clear for the next game, and this is the most important thing right now.”