Though their perfect away record was punctured against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night, the New York Red Bulls were still able to escape Chester with a draw that felt like a win.
New York drew 1-1 with Philadelphia in a hard fought game between tactically-similar teams. Daniel Gazdag opened the scoring for Philadelphia before New York looked down for the count after Dylan Nealis was sent off for a second yellow card. But a Luquinhas goal capped a game-breaking individual performance by the Brazilian, one that made the difference in for the Red Bulls in Pennsylvania.
The match started with Gerhard Struber continuing to adjust his lineup as he navigates injuries, suspensions, and fixture congestion this month. Patryk Klimala returned to side up top (paired with the increasingly ever-present Tom Barlow) after missing a week due to covid protocols, with Omir Fernandez and Luquinhas staying put in their attacking midfield roles. With Cristian Casseres suspended, Lewis Morgan in covid protocols, and Aaron Long sitting out due to injury precaution, Struber reshaped his defense into two banks of four with Tom Edwards slotting into a right back role while the Nealis brothers paired in central defense.
The first half was a predictably cagey affair between these two similar tactical setups. The Red Bulls found good combinations in midfield as well as prime locations for pressing interceptions, but a lack of sharpness in the box again manifested. A series of set pieces on both sides provided the most dangerous action through the opening 30 minutes, besides a Dylan Nealis yellow card after repeated rough aerial confrontations from the undersized center back. The later parts of the half were active on both sides, as Carlos Coronel saved a flicked corner kick in the 35th before Patryk Klimala and Luquinhas both forced saves from veteran Philadelphia keeper Andre Blake ahead of the halftime whistle from referee Rubiel Vazquez.
The Red Bulls had a nightmare start to second half in the second minute when a loose clearance from Sean Nealis into the Philadelphia midfield resulted with an immediate attack finished off by Daniel Gazdag. As New York strived to keep their nerve after such a blow, a fight broke out in midfield minutes later that earned yellow cards to both the Union’s Julian Carranza and New York’s Omir Fernandez.
But the game’s next yellow card would change the state of play even further. Dylan Nealis was handed a second yellow card after clipping Sergio Santos late — confusion rung out in the stadium as the referee Vazquez had played advantage for Philadelphia and waited to give the yellow until play stopped minutes later. Despite the remonstrations of his brother Sean and other New York teammates, Nealis walked off and the Red Bulls stated the end of their perfect away record in the face.
But as Gerhard Struber would say postgame, his team did not turn into “headless chickens” in the face of such dire circumstances. The Red Bulls would find a thrilling second wind late in the game that eventually earned them a point from a deep hole.
Cameron Harper had entered for a less-than-fit Patryk Klimala at halftime and created immediate danger through his direct running from a right-sided wingback position. Harper didn’t need a set of teammates to be able to stretch Philadelphia’s backline with his quick wing play, and in the 66th minute he produced the moment New York needed. After Omir Fernandez slid the ball out to Harper in space, the Celtic academy product used his first touch to dink the ball into the path of Luquinhas, who measured the difficult bouncing ball to finish with his own first touch past Blake to equalize.
Luquinhas would draw much of the attention in the late stages of the match as his dogged dribbling seemed to single-handedly frustrate and demoralize Philadelphia. By the time the Brazilian drew a yellow card for the Union’s Jack McGlynn in the 76th minute, the game felt one he had turned in favor of the Red Bulls despite their numerical disadvantage.
But his compatriot Carlos Coronel would help see through the draw that felt like a victory. Other than a Sergio Santos finish off a corner kick that was called off by VAR, Coronel’s sure hands navigated multiple goalmouth scrums and kept a desperate Philadelphia team from grabbing a winner.
The boos from the Subaru Park faithful at the final whistle put in further relief how much the night felt like a loss for Philadelphia, and in his postgame comments Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber echoed the counterpart sentiments of success in his New York locker room.
“Today’s the result with one point, for me, not the most important thing. For me, it’s my group, my boys, the mentality of what they show me,” said the Austrian boss.
“This can only happen to a team with the right spirit and the right togetherness. I am very proud today of my boys and yeah, I think this point has a bigger value like one point in a normal game.”
Defender Sean Nealis was one of the longest-tenured Red Bull in the makeshift lineup, and was proud his leadership contributed to such a big result.
“I think we showed great mental willpower today, especially when things didn’t go our way. I think we controlled what we controlled during the game. We responded well after the red card, and we got a lot of guys that have a lot of fight in them, and I think we displayed that greatly today.”
With the tightness at the top of the Eastern Conference, New York’s reward for holding the top team in the conference to a draw at their building is to paradoxically drop from 2nd to 5th. But with a home match against Chicago coming on Wednesday night in Harrison, Struber is excited to showcase more of his team’s growing mental strength.
“Yeah, of course, Chicago is straight ahead, and we like it and we are looking forward for this game in our stadium. And of course we will bring the boys in a fresh situation.”
“And then I think, yeah, we are ready for points at home, and I hope our supporters help us give us the right energy from the 12th man what we want and what we need, and then I think it’s on us to make the necessary points at home.”