The New York Red Bulls are shaping up to be contenders in 2022, but you still wouldn’t know it from their home form.
A second-half Jaroslaw Niezgoda finish was enough for Portland Timbers to steal a point from Red Bull Arena in a 1-1 draw on a chilly Saturday night in Harrison. Aaron Long pulled New York back level from a corner kick later in the half, but Gerhard Struber’s team was unable to pull ahead as they remain winless at home this year.
The match began with Struber juggling lineup changes in the face of covid protocols and squad rotation ahead of Wednesday’s Open Cup match against DC United. With Patryk Klimala out with a positive covid test, Struber turned not to English loanee Ashley Fletcher up top but instead veteran reserve Tom Barlow. Dylan Nealis entered the 5-4-1 as a right back with Lewis Morgan pushed into a dual 10 role paired with Luquinhas underneath Barlow.
In contrast to other home matches in 2022 in which the Red Bulls have smothered opponents into a bunkering stance, Portland was eager to attack and break the New York lines. Yimmy Chara was active in a distribution role from the left side as Portland generated more chances than RBA crowds have come to expect from opponents. Chara fired over a chipped feed from Santiago Moreno before Moreno fired a long-range shot off of Carlos Coronel’s crossbar just minutes later. Tom Barlow fired the best Red Bulls chance of the first period into David Bingham at point blank range, but the half saw Gerhard Struber imploring from the bench for his team to play more direct rather than drop the ball off short.
The second half saw New York play sharper in this regard, but it was Portland who got the first breakthrough. Moreno collected the ball on the right-hand channel before firing a low cross into the path of Jaroslaw Niezgoda. The Polish international would fight his way underneath Aaron Long to toe-poke the ball past Coronel for a 1-0 Timbers lead in the 53rd minute.
Gerhard Struber would commend his team after the match for their strong response to the goal, with New York creating chances soon after. Tom Barlow fired a counter-attack chance into the side netting in the 59th before a series of free kicks put the pressure on a bunkering Portland side. The Red Bull eventually found an equalizer when Aaron Long collected a Dylan Nealis knockdown from a corner kick and blasted past Bingham in the 67th minute.
New York would remain on the front foot for the remainder of the match but yet again were unable to find a breakthrough to get their first home win. An Omir Fernandez breakout was scuttled when the homegrown forward over-dribbled, while a Lewis Morgan blast was sent directly down the middle into Bingham’s arms. The mostly quiet Luquinhas tee’d up Cristian Casseres in the final moment of stoppage time, but the Venezuelan fired over to leave the Red Bulls still seeking their first home win of 2022.
At press time New York remained first in the Eastern Conference on the back of their perfect away form, with Gerhard Struber imploring fans to keep the faith.
“I know it’s not easy for fans to understand this is a process. It’s not easy for our fans to drive home with just one point, but these boys need our help and the goals will come.”
“I was disappointed that we did not use (our chances) in this game because we knew we would have more possession in this game and that Portland playing in a low block was not the type of team you can create chances against every few minutes.”
Struber and his center back Tom Edwards diagnosed the game slowing down at many points, preventing the Red Bulls from imposing their high-tempo style.
“I think we weren’t sharp enough in the first half,” said Edwards. “In the second half it got a little better but I think the game became so physical and started to slow down and it was difficult to keep up the intensity.”
Struber and his team have a nearly-immediate chance to rebuild their confidence with another away fixture, this time in the Open Cup against DC United on Tuesday. The Austrian manager said his team will focus on regenerating physically and getting their minds clear for a packed schedule in the coming weeks.
“We are very sexy when we play away, and I think DC will be a good moment.”