In a game that felt like much more than a low-scoring draw, the New York Red Bulls snatched a late point away from bitter rivals New York City FC for a 1-1 final in Harrison on Wednesday night.
A lively first half from the Red Bulls was cancelled out by a goal gifted to Valentin Castellanos before a late Patryk Klimala penalty score - so late it is reportedly the latest goal scored in Major League Soccer history as of press time - earned a morale boost over a dejected 10-man City. The Red Bulls hold at 11th place in the Eastern Conference, 8 points out of the final playoff spot with games in hand on most of the league.
In a game against mid-table City initially scheduled to take place last month before the season’s second extreme weather postponement, Gerhard Struber rolled his Red Bulls out in a tactical look similar to the one that steamrolled Inter Miami last week. Cristian Casseres re-entered the starting lineup in a 4-2-3-1 that again saw Patryk Klimala as the more free-running striker up top.
The formation nearly carried on its free scoring ways from Friday immediately as Klimala fed Omir Fernandez a cutback in the box in the 7th minute that the Bronx native was only able to fire into the arms of City keeper Sean Johnson. Particularly early on, much of the game was spread to the wide areas of the field where John Tolkin was targeted physically and technically by City wingers.
After an opening twenty minutes largely controlled by the red (tonight dressed in black) side, this young Red Bulls side conceded an unfortunately cheap goal. After an indecisive touch in the team’s own third, the under-pressure Tolkin oddly attempted to switch the ball across the face of goal, only to see the weak lob gobbled up by City, who circulated to star man Castellanos to break open a lead against the run of play
Struber made characteristically thick strokes at halftime, replacing Cristian Casseres and Omir Fernandez with the deeper pair of Andrew Gutman and Dru Yearwood to add more numbers in midfield and wide areas. But despite a livelier RBNY energy (especially after the introduction of Kyle Duncan) the bunkering City defense gave little daylight.
But in a chippy derby game where Ismail Elfath handed out 11 cards, the chaos finally went Red Bull’s way late in the second half and an extended stoppage period. First was City midfielder Keaton Parks being sent off for a clumsy challenge from behind on Dru Yearwood that eventually cause the English midfielder to leave the match minutes later.
Though the Red Bulls would struggle to break open a City team playing even more conservatively, they finally had a bit of fortune at the end of match go their way at the very last moment. After a hopeful long pass landed in the City box, Maxime Chanot slapped the ball down from a bounce with his hand. After several moments of play and a confusing moment of earpiece tapping from Elfath, the referee returned from the VAR booth to award a penalty. Patryk Klimala stepped up to score an equalizer with the game’s final kick that is sure to boost his growing confidence.
“Thanks Patryk” said John Tolkin post game.
“It’s about time we caught a break. It feels like the luck has been against us all season.”
The Jersey-bred teenager, who has shifted between fullback and midfield roles in his first senior pro season, said the team corrected tactical issues in the first half and feels ready to take City on again.
“In the first half, we just needed to move the ball quicker. I think we weren’t making the right runs and finding the right space and then in the second half we realized those wide passes were working.”
Struber repeated Tolkin’s assessment of the first half that unraveled for a Red Bulls team he said was not finding the right staggering for pressure as well as opportunities to overload when attacking. But even more emphatically, Struber expressed pride in his young team hanging in a tough game to earn a result.
“We expected a tough game a team with great experience. (City) is a team that plays with flatter wingbacks so sometimes it was difficult for us to find space.”
But the Austrian was beaming with pride in his young team’s ability to endure another night of setbacks and still leave themselves in a position to secure a result.
“I think I see a lot of next steps from the physical side. This is a New York City team that has experienced and has built their style of play. We are still learning - but I did not see scared boys out there. We knew how much power we were going to have to bring and I think in some of these moments we even show some cleverness on restarts.”
But in a season in which the Red Bulls have a positive goal differential despite their dragging spot in the standings, Struber reiterated the team’s pleasure at finally receiving a stroke of luck he hopes to turn into confidence ahead of Saturday’s rematch.
“This absolutely gives us a big boost, to show that we handle a team of this level and create problems for them. The big topic is still becoming cleaner with the ball, but we have a big belief going into Saturday.”