The New York Red Bulls finally had a good start for a change on Saturday night - but another minor mishap derailed yet another sound performance as DC United earned a 1-1 draw in Harrison.
Dru Yearwood put New York ahead with an emphatic strike in the opening minutes before an inadvertent Sean Nealis handball allowed DC to equalize through an Ola Kamara penalty. The Red Bulls hold at 11th place in the Eastern Conference, though with multiple games in hand on most teams.
It was midfield musical chairs from Gerhard Struber ahead of a condensed fixture list over coming weeks; Dru Yearwood returned to the starting lineup and Cristian Casseres returned to the squad on the bench after long layoffs. Meanwhile Frankie Amaya did not dress along with Daniel Royer, who had only just made a comeback from injury at the end of last month. Fabio was a rare scratch from the starting lineup, likely a rotational decision but also allowing for a curious adjustment to the role of misfiring designated player Patryk Klimala, playing in a lone striker role.
The game opened up just about perfectly for New York with a textbook Red Bulls goal. Patryk Klimala won the ball high up the field on a counter-press and found enthusiastic runners behind him, picking out Dru Yearwood to blast the ball past DC keeper Jon Kempin for a 1-0 lead in the 6th minute. Yearwood, who has spent several weeks on hiatus from the first team on orders from Struber after struggling for full fitness most of the season, ran to his manager and the bench to embrace for an emotional celebration.
But the positive vibes could not be maintained by the Red Bulls as the game flattened out. Save for a couple moments of heroics from reputation-accumulating goalkeeper Carlos Coronel, the remainder of the first half was quiet between two cagey young pressing teams. However, in what is becoming deja vu for this hapless New York team in 2021, a minor technicality led to an equalizer for the opposition.
Following a sequence of DC possession around the New York box just after the 40-minute mark, Paul Arriola unleashed a shot that was blocked by an onrushing Sean Nealis. Though Nealis clutched his face in pain, referee Robert Sibiga referred to the VAR monitor before returning to award DC a penalty for an unintentional handball. Ola Kamara stepped up to push the spot kick past Coronel to equalize for DC just before the half.
With the halftime deadlock, Gerhard Stuber made characteristic formation adjustments, replacing Carmona with the more mobile Omir Fernandez. Though Fernandez facilitated more penetration for New York, the majority of the second half would proceed in the same cagey fashion that typically baffles this Red Bulls team built on opposition mistakes. Yordy Reyna was a workhorse up and down the DC right side where Tom Edwards created the most action for New York.
The game would end in a fair 1-1 draw that perhaps stings less than recent Red Bulls home results but doesn’t provide much immediate help for a team outside the playoff picture and desperate for points. Gerhard Struber expressed a mixed reaction to his team’s performance.
“This result is not the right feeling for us. We expect to win this game and many things went the way we want and I saw good developments from many players. But in the end this was a DC team with good momentum and we did not put them in difficult spaces. As for the (VAR decision) this is out of our hands. This is football and we have to accept these things.”
Struber said he was pleased with his defense handling “many things in a good way” and that he was pleased with what he saw from the 4-2-3-1 formation that he said was meant to counter DC’s threat in wide areas. But with his team’s continued struggle to create consistent chances, Struber pinpointed the mentality of his players as the culprit.
“I think we go to this formation to give Patryk chances to play more centrally and run behind the defense. I think in the end the issues in the final third are not the shape but the desire. We need players with more desire to make sprints into the box to create danger and I think this was missing for me today.”
Goal scorer Dru Yearwood emphasized the team’s continued confidence in each other despite the season’s struggles, as illustrated by his celebration. His comments appear to point to a team prepared to fight for points despite the uphill battle they face in the season’s final two months.
“The last few weeks have been tough. I think I had been letting my teammates down a little bit and it was important to go down to USL and get things in a good way. I think you can see in that celebration it was for everybody in the organization for keeping their faith in me.”
“These guys are my big brothers and, in a lot of cases, little brothers. This team is a family and we’re confident in each other. We think we can beat any team in MLS if we play our game and the next few weeks are crucial playing against many teams we’re trying to move ahead of.”