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Charlotte 2-0 Red Bulls: New York wilts in Carolina heat

Goals from Bender and Jones at the end of each half put further dent in once-perfect away form

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Charlotte FC
Charlotte’s Ben Bender wheels away in celebration after scoring the opener in Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Red Bulls.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

After another opportunity to reach the top of the Eastern Conference table was squandered, Gerhard Struber wondered out loud whether his New York Red Bulls are capable of moving into the pole position.

“Perhaps we are not ready for this.”

With no tongue-in-cheek toast of a Red Bull can, the Austrian manager cut a forlorn figure after his team dropped a painful 2-0 result to Charlotte FC on Saturday afternoon. Goals from Ben Bender and Derrick Jones at the end of each half were enough for the reeling North Carolina side to earn an unlikely win in their first game after the firing of manager Miguel Angel Ramirez.

For Struber’s side, the decisive loss against a team they spanked 3-1 just over two weeks ago in the Open Cup will generate perhaps the biggest round of soul-searching seen thus far in a 2022 season that has seen the team alternate thrilling highs with perplexing lows.

“There’s a lot of disappointment,” said Red Bulls center back Sean Nealis, who captained the team on Saturday in the absence of national team-bound Aaron Long.

“We just have to look in the mirror, focus on our tape sessions and see what we can do better as team.”

In a familiar refrain this season, New York dominated the opening 10 minutes of the match with aggressive pressing and quick breakouts before a dip in energy in the humid 85-degree Carolina heat eventually allowed Charlotte’s possession game to begin clicking.

“I think we struggle sometimes to find the right trigger moments against their possession,” said Struber. “I will not talk about the turf or the atmosphere. In a game like this, we need every player at their personal (limit) and I did not see this today.”

Struber attempted to change approach at halftime, brining on a largely ineffective Ashley Fletcher to pair up top with Patryk Klimala and moving Lewis Morgan and John Tolkin to more advanced wing roles. But Struber said a compact Charlotte defense and a lack of hunger to get numbers into the box prevented his team from generated chances as they chased the game and eventually surrendered the final dagger to Jones late.

Beyond Long being out on international duty, Struber cited the absence of Venezuelan national teamed Cristian Cásseres as pivotal to the team’s inability to disrupt Charlotte’s game. With both absentees likely to return for the team’s next match against Toronto in Harrison next weekend, the Red Bulls hope that a full-strength side can get the team on a more consistent path.

“We’re gonna have Aaron and Cristian back this week,” said Sean Nealis. “Hopefully we can regroup, get back to what makes us good and get back to winning ways.”