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A Couple Or Three Things: Red Bulls pass stern Philly test

OaM editor Ben Cork offers his immediate thoughts on what could be a pivotal result for New York

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union
Tom Edwards and Sean Nealis dap after stopping Philadelphia’s Cory Burke in the second half last night.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

While it wasn’t the triumphant win to rocket to the top of the table they hoped, the New York Red Bulls still came away from a difficult match against Philadelphia Union on Saturday with a result. After a night of reflection, OaM tells ya a couple or three things we learned from a challenging test in Chester that the team largely passed…

Luquinhas is something else

“Such a baller.”

“He’s so good, man.”

The last couple Red Bulls press conferences have seen New York players become stunned fanboys of their teammate Lucas Lima Linhares, better known as Luquinhas.

The Brazilian signed this winter from Legia Warsaw was again instrumental in the result. Not only did his 66th minute finish on a bouncing Cameron Harper cross claw New York back into the match, but his one-man show of incessant and tenacious dribbling (“dribbling from another planet” his manager Gerhard Struber said) pinned Philadelphia back, drew dangerous free kicks, and engineered Red Bull attacks out of nothing with the numerical disadvantage brought on by Dylan Nealis’s second yellow card.

When signed, Luquinhas was expected to provide guile and service from the midfield, but it’s his ability to enter the box and score that has become a massive bonus to his arrival in the team. His ability to create mismatches and numerical overloads in what Gerhard Struber described as “the golden zone” at the channels in front of the opposing goalposts is proving key to the team breaking out of its scoring slump. Coming on the heels of his goal and assist performance in an Open Cup rout of DC United earlier in the week, he is quickly establishing himself as not only New York’s marquee player, but potentially one of the entire league’s true game-changers.

Even the youngest version of this team is stronger than last year’s

On Saturday in Chester the Red Bulls were missing veteran attacker Lewis Morgan, relative veteran midfielder Cristian Cásseres, and captain Aaron Long through a mixture of injuries and suspensions. But in a difficult, emotional game against a rival with 1st place in the conference at stake, Struber’s team not only maintained their focus but dragged themselves back into a game from a deep second half hole.

The Daniel Gazdag goal in the opening minute of the second half, the intermittent fighting that broke out with Philadelphia, and the fluky second yellow card on Dylan Nealis was textbook example of a scenario where a young, directionless team could unravel. But instead, under the makeshift leadership of Carlos Coronel and Sean Nealis, New York displayed pride and hunger in keeping their stability and drawing even.

As emphasized by Struber and the team this week, having a team of 30 players you can depend on is more important than a single group of eleven. With the strong character shown by Saturday’s makeshift lineup (including the returns of Cameron Harper and Jason Pendant to league action) the Red Bulls can now go deeper into a long 2022 with confidence in the latter end of their roster.

Philadelphia: nice try

The line has long been that the Union style the Red Bulls as their main rival. With frequent playoff and cup encounters in recent years as well as a jostling for the same space near the top of the Eastern Conference, there is some case to be made for an on-field rivalry, particularly given the similar tactical approaches of the two clubs.

But off the field, the Union appeared to overplay their hand with a pair of pregame stunts that failed to win any mind games. First was a “roast” of the Red Bulls produced by Philadelphia’s social media team where NYCFC-affiliated comedy duo The Cooligans proceeded to spend five minutes rushing through a set of jokes that were confusing in that they were as much at the expense of the Union and the city of New York as a place as they were at the expense of the Red Bulls — a club they derided as associated with New Jersey anyway. Even some Philadelphia fans saw the video as a gesture asking for cosmic trouble on a gameday.

The phrasing in the club’s tweet of the comedy video even saw the Union inadvertently participate in an ironic meme campaign by New York fans in recent years by literally posting The Red Bull. The Union even followed through by performing an pregame burning effigy of a papier-mache Red Bull outside of Subaru Park, a spectacle that New York fans mostly found useful as a source of visually-arresting material for future The Red Bull posts.

Hated. Adored. Never ignored.