There’s still a ways to go, but in a matter of eight days the mood around the New York Red Bulls season has taken a 180.
Bronx native Omir Fernandez buried a Kyle Duncan cutback in the first half to give the Red Bulls an emotional 1-0 derby victory over cross-town rivals New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. With three positive results in a row for Gerhard Struber’s Red Bulls, Fernandez’s second goal of the year appears to turn the page on the team’s nightmare late summer form. The Red Bulls still sit seven points out of the final playoff spot, but with games in hand, a little over a month left to play, and a recovered confidence.
The match began with another new formation look from Gerhard Struber. The Austrian rolled out something of a 3-6-1 formation not dissimilar from the lineup preferred by Jesse Marsch in the 2017 season. Cristian Cásseres and Omir Fernandez lined up as dual attacking midfielders behind lead striker Patryk Klimala, while wingbacks John Tolkin and Kyle Duncan provided width on both sides of the ball. Dru Yearwood returned not only to the squad but the starting lineup after an apparent injury on Wednesday night, but striker Fabio missed his first game of the season with a slight knock.
The match started with a series of City chances as they attempted quick crosses in front of Carlos Coronel’s goal. The Brazilian keeper was forced into a few dramatic saves but after this opening flurry, the Red Bulls began to pin City back on the small pitch and threaten with long balls that covered the whole field in single swoops. In the middle sequences of the first half City struggled to escape their half, but the chances created as the Red Bulls put on the pressure were mostly sloppy once reaching the box as Klimala struggled to combine with Fernandez and especially Cásseres. But eventually a rare moment of possession in the 43rd minute created the opening that determined the night.
Sean Davis - who put in yet another calm shift in the middle of the park - collected a recovered ball from a previous attack and lofted a diagonal to wingback Kyle Duncan on the edge of the box. Duncan methodically dribbled City left back Gudmundur Thorarinsson before cutting the ball back (on what he would later describe as a “blind pass”) to a streaking Omir Fernandez, who buried past the otherwise solid Sean Johnson to put the Red Bulls up 1-0 just minutes before halftime.
The second half would see Struber keep the same shape but begin rotating players with another midweek match against Philadelphia just ahead. Carlos Coronel made multiple huge saves, Kyle Duncan put in an eye-catching performance on both sides of the ball, City dodged a few more potential red cards, and the Red Bulls secured a crucial win. Just about the only winners on the blue side of New York on Saturday night were the friendly Yankee Stadium security staff who said they “wanted to go home” and closed the press area of America’s most…unique…soccer venue less than five minutes after the end of post-match press conferences.
Anyway, here’s a few quotes from manager Gerhard Struber and the players on this potentially season-changing result:
“I feel a big relief right now,” said the first-year Austrian manager. “I think for the shape today from our behavior, from the attitude over the whole game time, we have so much control not in every second but in most of the time and our pressing, our triggers, and our synchronized moments, it was very difficult to manage for NYC.”
“I think my boys always try their best and my boys always try to find spaces, they find synchronized moments, but today, yes, we are sharp like a knife, and I think they feel that from the first second. Also, I think today, my wingbacks make a great job with good pressing moments. They find always the right triggers and they handle the situation very good and also with the backline, we have good shifting moments with good distances. I think this was in the end, a big team win, a big togetherness, a big willingness from the first second and I think this was again too much for New York City.”
Kyle Duncan, whose performance even beyond the assist was crucial to the win, said the team still has work to do but senses an enticing opportunity in the upcoming fixture list to potentially catapult themselves back into the playoff picture.
“We know that the few games that we have coming up are important ones and they are also the teams that are in front of us - like right in front of us - points wise. So, we know if we beat these teams, we will get back into that seventh spot or maybe even sixth spot or fifth spot. It is really important to us right now.”
“Obviously the derby win makes the fans happy, but we are in a bad spot right now and we are trying to get into a playoff spot, so we have to win every game that we can right now.”