The New York Red Bulls advanced to the semifinals of the 2022 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with an emphatic 3-0 trouncing of local rivals New York City FC. Fresh from covering the match at a rainy Red Bull Arena, Once A Metro managing editor Ben Cork tells ya a couple or three things to take away from such a momentous result.
The Red Bulls are back
It’s been a slow recovery for New York’s original MLS club ever since their (relatively shallow) rock bottom of 2019. After the departure of club emperor Jesse Marsch for Europe the previous summer, every level of the organization appeared to slip as flat first team performances, ill-advised transfers, and an academy drought mixed into an unenjoyable malaise.
But the course correction made in 2020 with the arrival of new sporting chief Kevin Thelwell and new head coach Gerhard Struber is finally bearing fruit to a similar extent. The club has been buoyed by an overhauled squad with marquee signings (such as derby goal scorers Lewis Morgan and Luquinhas) thriving, youth products like John Tolkin and Daniel Edelman advancing to the highest level, and now a momentum-gaining first team with a clear tactical identity charging to the top of the American game again.
Wednesday’s Open Cup triumph over a direct rival on a drizzly night had the feeling of a watershed moment for a team hitting incredible highs in recent weeks. Omir Fernandez’s post-game comments belittling City’s claims of regressive football and expressing pride in his team’s style of play added an exclamation point on a night when the Red Bulls won fully on their own terms. Struber’s team has a chance to make another statement in just three days as they travel to the West Coast to face league leaders LAFC. With the powerful confidence coming off the back of the last two results, the Red Bulls will be betting on themselves.
Subs are key to Struber’s gameplan
Though the team initially took the lead early in the first half through starter Lewis Morgan, it was the substitutes who piled the pressure on with City down to ten men.
Omir Fernandez received the deserved plaudits for his late victory cigar goal, but the buildup for the goal began with a clever run and reception by debutant Steven Sserwadda and a rasping cross from subbed right back Cameron Harper. Struber took time out of his postgame press conference to praise Patryk Klimala, whose second half cameo saw higher pressing of City’s backline and goalkeeper as well as the clever trap-beating run that eventually led to the Luquinhas goal putting the team up 2-0.
Gerhard Struber likes to go to his bench early, frequently making halftime changes and often reserving regular starters such as Fernandez and Klimala for second half hand-showings, as seen on Wednesday night. Struber remarked last week that he is a huge fan of the expansion of in-game substitutes from 3 to 5 since the covid pandemic, saying that it not only helps a hard-running team like the Red Bulls stay fresh, but also allows more of the squad to be involved and get minutes.
After Wednesday’s victory, he remarked that substitutes are often less overwhelmed by the pre-match gameplan and are able to play with a clear mind against opponents who have already been sussed out. With his squad increasingly gelling and more and more players proving capable of stepping up in big situations like Wednesday, look for Struber to double down on his second half hijinks as the season goes on.
What else can you say about Luquinhas?
For the third home game in a row, the Brazilian wizard picked up the rebound from a saved shot with explosive flair. After earning a brace against DC United with a drive and a volley from such situations and a stunning lobbed goal against Toronto off a rejected Tom Barlow shot, this time Luquinhas picked up the rebound of Patryk Klimala’s shot and danced around stranded City keeper Luis Barraza to fire home the second Red Bull goal.
The importance to the Red Bulls of the man known to friends and family as Lucas Lima Linhares does not need to be spelled out to Tri-State soccer fans anymore, including the NYCFC squad apparently. Multiple wild tackles were laid on Luquinhas in the first half, with Keaton Parks lucky not to see red for a leaping challenge from behind in the opening five minutes. But the Brasilia native’s toughness, often shown against the ball in New York’s pressing scheme, shone through in his recovery from the rough treatment.
Is Luquinhas the best player in the country, as I remarked in the heady times of last night’s second half? The rest of his magical debut season in America will give us an answer.
What was your takeaway from last night’s win? Sound off in the comments below...