The New York Red Bulls began the past week with a 6-1 loss in their final preseason friendly, then endured a drama over head coach Gerhard Struber’s comments downplaying the team’s expectations before seeing sporting executive Kevin Thelwell leave for Everton on the literal eve of the season. In a season-opening away match against San Jose Earthquakes where the team could have sent alarm bells haywire, they instead earned a cathartic and cleansing 3-1 victory.
Patryk Klimala opened the scoring just before halftime before a San Jose equalizer by Chofis was vigorously responded to by winning goals from Omir Fernandez and Tom Barlow. New York largely dominated a match in which its young squad showed signs of substantial growth while new signings and injury returns gelled seamlessly. The Red Bull outshot the Quakes 18 to 12 on their own ground and frequently pinned back San Jose’s possession-based system with lively pressing.
The match started in a cagey fashion typical of a season opener, with both teams struggling to connect and enter the opponent’s half with confidence. But around the twenty-minute mark the pace increased and New York gained an upper hand with Cristian Casseres and Omir Fernandez both getting on the end of multiple chances but unable to hit the target. But the waves of Red Bull pressing and attacks eventually chiseled out a breakthrough when a cross by lively debutant Lewis Morgan was scuffed in at close range by Patryk Klimala during stoppage time before the half.
The second half would provide more of a test to Struber’s side, but one that the young team passed with flying colors. After another chippy opening twenty minutes in the second half, San Jose attacker Javier “Chofis” Lopez flicked in a whipped Cristian Espinoza free kick to bring the game level in the 68th minute. But in a situation where the New York squad often faltered in stretches of last year, the team provided a mature and emphatic response.
Almost immediately after the equalizer, New York began another siege of the San Jose half, with substitute Caden Clark fumbling multiple chances but still collecting the ball back as the Earthquakes ineptly attempted to pass their way out of the Red Bull press. After the active Frankie Amaya secured yet another interception in the 72nd minute, he scooped a pass into the path of Omir Fernandez, who dribbled past Earthquakes defender Jackson Yueill before firing between the legs of goalkeeper JT Marcinowski to put New York back in front. Frequent fanbase whipping boy Tom Barlow gave a “shush” celebration after his score in stoppage time against an overstretched San Jose team attempting to claw back to make the final score 3-1 to the Red Bull.
Gerhard Struber couldn’t help but crack a smile at the start of his press conference after a challenging week ended in success for his team.
“It’s a very good feeling to win this game, and it shows we are on the right way going forward. We had many good moments in both halves, especially in our style of play against the ball and I am very happy.”
Struber remarked upon his team’s togetherness and mental strength in the face of the second half challenge as well, calling it the “X-factor” the team needs. “I think today I can feel that many players on the field, they feel a safety feeling,” said Struber.
“Everyone can have a safety feeling with the bigger togetherness, with the synchronized pressing moments, and with the transition moments. We create many good chances in the end, maybe we have to score more goals, but I think right now we are very close together. The team dynamic is on a high level from how we get the boys together and also from the tactical side, the boys understand more and more what I want.”
Goalscorer Omir Fernandez seconded his manager’s thoughts and excitement about the team’s progress as teenagers Serge Ngoma and Daniel Edelman contributed to the win on their MLS debuts.
“I think everybody wants to start off with a win, and I think for us, it was super important to keep with the momentum that we ended with last year. You can see people fighting for each other, new guys coming in and already fitting our system and helping us win.”
“We don’t consider ourselves young anymore. Everybody has to step up and you saw that today, especially with some of the new guys.”
Captain Aaron Long could be considered one of those new guys as he returned to the lineup from a nine-month absence due to an Achilles injury with a straightforward statement postgame: “I’m so happy, man.”
“It has been a long time for me – eight, nine months. To come away on the road, 21 days as a group, to come back with three points and the performance was not our best by any means, but the fight and the heart was there. I think it means a lot and it was a big win for the group and I am super happy.”
Struber said postgame that acting sporting chief Denis Hamlett is still attempting to add “1-2” more signings in the season’s opening weeks, with Luquinhas and Tom Edwards additional awaiting their visa approvals before arrival. As the Red Bulls head back east ahead of next weekend’s match against Toronto, the momentum generated by their win in San Jose might just be the beginning for this promising team.