Red Bulls Live and Die by Late Drama vs Revs & Cincy
The New York Red Bulls experienced just about every emotion the beautiful game has to offer at each of their home matches this week as they narrowly hung on to defeat the New England Revolution 2-1 on Saturday before suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat of their own to FC Cincinnati on Wednesday. New York was on the receiving end of 93rd minute goals from their opponents in both matches, with New England’s Andrew Farrell depositing a long range effort that was later disallowed by referee Rubiel Vasquez and Cincinnati’s Obinna Nwobodo scoring the fateful nail in the coffin that confirmed the Red Bulls’ defeat on Wednesday.
New York finds themselves in a similar situation to how they started the week, sitting three points beneath the Eastern Conference playoff line with a hard-earned win and gut-wrenching loss against two of the best teams in Major League Soccer this season. However, the patterns of similarity between the two matches were not limited to just the concession of late goals, but they also included questionable refereeing decisions that improved New York’s chances of victory in each contest.
On Saturday, Vasquez and Video Assistant Referee (VAR) Jorge Gonzalez controversially overturned Farrell’s equalizing goal due to striker Giacomo Vrioni impeding on New York goalkeeper Carlos Coronel’s line of sight from an offside position, a decision that the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) would later regret in a statement issued by their media team. “The VAR reviewed the angles and did not see the ball deflect and thought the goalkeeper was impacted by Vrioni in the offside position…The referee, who also did not see this deflection, accepted the review and the goal was disallowed. PRO acknowledges that an error was made, and the goal should have been allowed.” Strangely enough, the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA), the certified labor union representing Officials employed by PRO, made a statement of their own in response to PRO’s, declaring that “PRO’s statement labeling the decision as an ‘officiating error’ is contrary to all PRO’s instruction to the Officials.”
Apart from the controversial officiating, the Red Bulls played themselves into dangerous situations that left the game on the table for the Revolution. Despite scoring early in the second half and going up a man when New England midfielder Latif Blessing (who now plays for Toronto FC) was shown red for a nefarious challenge on the goalscorer Frankie Amaya, sloppy pay and cheap set pieces allowed New England to come back into the game. Defender Brandon Bye leveled the match momentarily for the visitors, putting a decently full Red Bull Arena into a lull before Wiki Carmona could put the Red Bulls back in front in the 85th minute, sending the Red Bulls off for their fourth home victory of the season.
Head coach Troy Lesesne was pleased to get the win, but had concerns about his team’s performance following the red card, telling media post match that “it wasn’t a complete performance tonight, and that’s what we were asking for in the pre match. I think a lot of the game was very good from us, but when we go up a man, I think we could have gotten the second goal. And then we let them back in the game with silly fouls and set pieces.”
Against Cincinnati, the Red Bulls were awarded a generous if not lucky penalty in their favor as Nick Hagglund was whistled for “a deliberate movement of the arm to the ball creating a barrier”. Midfielder Omir Fernandez would make no mistake with the spot kick, notching his fourth goal involvement in as many games. Not only was the infraction not during a scoring opportunity, but the contact to the arm was minimal at best, lending the Red Bulls another helping hand towards a result. However, the referee’s decision could not be the difference maker against the Blue and Orange, who surged late with a penalty of their own in the 80th minute (to be converted by 2023 MLS All-Star captain Luciano Acosta) and a 93rd minute winner off the foot of Nwobodo, which goalkeeper Carlos Coronel should have been able to handle.
Hosting two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, New York fell into a similar pattern in the second half of both matches, but Lesesne was not quick to fault his players for failing to see out the victory against Cincinnati. “I can’t say that second half performances are poor,” Lesesne said. “I would say that today wasn’t good enough in the second half. I thought we started it well again but maybe a little bit of it is fatigue potentially. We’re thin right now, I think we all understand that. But credit to Cincinnati as well… We don’t adjust as well as they adjust. I just told the team, I take the first layer of responsibility and accountability for that, not to absolve them from any of their responsibility, but I look at myself first.”
The jam packed schedule of MLS requires that teams not dwell on losses as the Red Bulls see a quick turnaround once again when they face Real Salt Lake on the road this Saturday for their third match in seven days. RSL, like New England and Cincinnati, are among the league’s best and have been in great form, highlighted by the arrival of Designated Player striker Chicho Arango, the former standout for Los Angeles FC just over a season ago. The Red Bulls have never won on the road against Salt Lake, but they seem to be just a few minutes away from completing positive performances against some of the league’s best. Not to mention, they should expect to welcome back defender JMi Tolkin (United States) and striker Cory Burke (Jamaica), whose nations were both eliminated from the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Wednesday. Should they reintegrate important pieces to the lineup and see out performances for all ninety minutes, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t ultimately qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs for a record fourteenth consecutive season. They have another chance to get it right again at America First Field on Saturday.