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Chicago 1-2 Red Bulls: Klimala the hero on rainy night in Windy City

Late penalty maintains New York’s perfect road record

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Chicago Fire
Patryk Klimala and John Tolkin slide in the Chicago rain after a late winner.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Red Bulls overcame acts of God on Saturday night. The waterlogged pitch of Soldier Field, an hour long weather delay, and contentious referee decisions weren’t enough to halt the team’s come from behind win against the Chicago Fire, 2-1. Patryk Klimala scored both goals in the final 15 minutes to also break his seven game dry streak.

The win is New York’s fifth straight road win to open the 2022 league season. With it, the team ties the 1998 LA Galaxy as the only clubs in Major League Soccer history to win each of its first five road games of a season. No club has ever won its first six road matches. Across all competitions (because the Open Cup deserves respect) the Bulls have six straight road victories.

Despite the result, manager Gerhard Struber was left feeling “a little empty” after it all. In what is becoming a regular occurrence the Austrian voiced his displeasure with league officiating and claimed referee Jon Freemon and the fourth official were “in the spotlight too much”. Still, he went on to commend every player, nearly all by name, on their performances.

“I think this game showed me good things on how to improve on the mindset. It shows me we are much more ready than one season ago”.

In one aspect he could control, Struber elected to keep Klimala on the bench for a third straight match (including USOC). Instead the team came in a 4-2-3-1 against the Fire with Ashley Fletcher up top as the lone striker. Luquinhas, Omir Fernandez and Lewis Morgan acted as the main support with the former and latter working as wingers.

However, Fletcher never took advantage of the players around him. The Watford striker had probably his worst performance as a Red Bull that included a grand total of two shots in 50 minutes. Multiple times he looked out of place receiving and making passes (45.5% completion rate) and this was before the Chicago weather took a turn for the worst.

The fireworks truly began in the 15th minute when New York once again fell ill to the hand of referee decision. Chicago’s Boris Sekulić launched a shot from 25 yards out toward a wall of players in the box. Ashley Fletcher turned his body as the ball hit off his right arm with referee Jon Freemon immediately signaling for a penalty.

Fletcher was flashed a yellow card and Xherdan Shaqiri stepped up to the spot. His shot to the right saw Coronel guess correctly but unable to make contact with the attempt.

Immediately off the restart New York started a counter response. A foul set up Frankie Amaya with a free kick at the 40 yard line of Chicago’s end. His kick into the box sailed over two jumping defenders and found Tom Edwards running in on the right side. The Stoke City loan leaped up and redirected the ball, notching it past a diving Gabriel Slonina and the opposite post.

That didn’t last long though. VAR was called in and Freemon came back from the monitor to rule no goal. The league’s official Video Review twitter clarified the ruling was due to Aaron Long being offside during the play. Long was just to the right of Edwards as he scored and did make contact with a Fire player as the play commenced.

Freemon, for his part, also struggled to control the game throughout. A similar play at the other end of the field saw a Chicago player turn to avoid a ball just outside the box off a Cristian Casseras Jr. shot attempt. The lack of a yellow card after the ball hit off his arm elected reactions from both the bench and field players.

As the first half continued on, so did the weather. As the game entered stoppage time a flash of lightning sent many Red Bull faithful into PTSD style flashbacks about last season’s Inter Miami CF postponement that lasted four hours before the game was finally called off. Both teams entered the tunnel as the rain worsened though weather maps luckily indicated the call would pass eventually. In total, the game was stopped at 7:56 Central and didn’t kick back off for another hour and a half. In that time, Struber and, surprisingly, team communications manager John Gasparoni tried to rally the team back before they returned to finish the stoppage. Once that was done, a quick three minute break would separate the two halves before play continued on - despite initial referee hesitation regarding the field’s condition.

That break might have been the best thing to happen for New York. The team returned to the pitch with a high attack efficiency, especially through halftime substitute Klimala. After replacing Omir Fernandez, the former Polish youth international joined Fletcher up-top and pushed the wingers out even further. The new formation resembled a 4-4-2 or in truth a 4-2-2-2. But it worked as players like Frankie Amaya and Luquinhas both worked in tandem to make precise long passes through awful weather. The number of set pieces also picked up with Amaya being the main man for most.

New York was still lacking in shots though. Through the first 45 the team only had one shot on goal and just as many registered shots at all. Heading into the 70th minute that number had only increased by two to three. But that started to change in the 74th minute. Substitute Dylan Nealis picked up the ball on the right side of the field and started a run before feeding up to Luquinhas. The pass was greatly aided by the slick turf and the Brazilian cut across into the box with ease on the wet turf before passing into a waiting Klimala. He struck into the opposite post from the right side to tie the game at one each.

Luquinhas’ assist was his third across all competitions and second in league play, tying him for the team lead this season with Klimala, Fernandez, and Amaya.

With the game already turning in New York’s favor, the referee Freemon once again inserted himself into the equation. Jhon Durán extended his arm against Casseras in the 80th minute sending the Venezulan to the ground with a splash. His second yellow put Chicago down a man with tempers starting to flare up. Three minutes later Rafael Czichos was shown his second yellow for a comically long side against Luquinhas on the wet turf, leaving the Fire with nine men for the final seven minutes of regulation.

With New York continuing to attack, physicality continued to be a factor. During the second half Fletcher, who was already on a yellow card from the handball, needed to be pulled away from an altercation prior to being subbed off in the 74th. Multiple other times Chicago seemingly looked to slow the bulls’ charge. But that close contact play backfired when Miguel Navarro inadvertently body blocked and brought down Klimala on the box’s very edge in the 86th. One final VAR review later and referee Freemon pointed to the same spot he had in the first half - but this time for the other team.

Klimala’s slow stutter step sent Slonina to his right, allowing the Polish youth international to calmly kick in his third game-winning goal for RBNY in the first minute of stoppage time. In doing so, Klimala became the 28th player in franchise history to record double-digit goals and assists in his MLS career.

The Red Bulls return to Harrison this Saturday, May 7, to host last season’s MLS Cup Finalist Portland Timbers.

(Thanks to Red Bulls Radio and Reddit streams for making this recap possible since MSG and Xfinity continue to make life a living hell as an RBNY & New York Rangers fan)