HARRISON, N.J. – With three goals on Saturday night, New York locked up a home game in the upcoming Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. After playing to a draw with Union earlier this season in MLS play and a loss to Philly in the US Open Cup, and yet another matchup looming in the final week of the season, the Red Bulls 3-2 victory on Saturday night has them heading into the National Team break undefeated in 14 straight MLS matches.
The battle against Union wasn’t easy, but it ended up with three well-earned points. On to the takeaways:
After weeks of seeing the same script play out over and over, a new wrinkle was thrown into the equation on Saturday night.
Plenty of consternation surrounded New York’s inability to see games out over the course of the season (a trait they would need later in this match), but it was the Union who drew first blood on Saturday night.
Midfielder Fabian Herbers managed to beat Luis Robles at his near post in the 14th minute, leaving the Red Bulls a bit shell shocked. But the Red Bulls had an answer for the Union at each juncture; erasing two deficits on the night to cap of a signature, come-from-behind win.
“We got smacked in the mouth twice,” head coach Jesse Marsch said. “To go down 1-0 and then even when it seemed under control at 2-1, and for them to deliver another punch and for us to get stronger, right? I think we got stronger as the game went on; we got better. We were more committed, more focused, more concentrated, and then it leads to us eventually getting the win.”
Philadelphia’s dangerous compliment of attacking weapons was on display at Red Bull Arena, as the likes of Herbers, Tranquillo Barnetta and Chris Pontius made their mark throughout the match. But the Red Bulls showed something different on Saturday night in their ability to collectively regroup, battle back, and keep the streak alive.
“The most important thing is that we got better each time they scored on us,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “It was a pretty soft goal to give up early, but we got better and put the pressure on them for the rest of the first half. Then we get that goal right before the half at a pretty opportune moment to get into halftime at 1-1. Even after a great start to the second half, they throw another punch to see how we’d react. Again, I thought we got better as the game went on.”
Big Three, Major Key
For any team to reach their full potential, their biggest names need to perform at the highest level in the games that matter most. That’s exactly what the Red Bulls got on Saturday night as Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Dax McCarty powered New York to victory.
It was Kljestan who found the equalizer in the 44th minute to give the Red Bulls a lifeline heading into the break, but the US international turned provider for the game-winning goal in the 66th minute off the head of McCarty. The captain bagged himself two assists on the night, but his spectacular ball over the top for Wright-Phillips sent the Englishman in on goal for the equalizer in the 47th minute.
“I guess that’s why we get paid the most; that’s what we get paid to do,” Kljestan said. “To be honest, you need your big players to step up in big moments and I thought a lot of our big players did.”
Kljestan padded his lead atop the MLS leaderboards bagging his 17th assist of the season, while BWP reclaimed the Golden Boot lead from NYCFC’s David Villa thanks to goal #21 on the year.
Never one to trumpet his personal accolades, Wright-Phillips admitted that Villa’s brace the day prior may have crossed his mind ahead of Saturday night’s match.
“When he scored two yesterday, I was in all the mentions [on social media],” he said.
“I hate to go into games thinking about goals, unfortunately this game I went in thinking about goals.
“If anyone’s watching, keep my name out of the mentions. I don’t need the drama.”
Back on Top
In a league often defined by its parity, perhaps it should come as little surprise that the top of the table has often featured a rotating cast of characters. On Thursday night, Toronto FC saw themselves atop the Eastern Conference. A day later, it was New York City FC vaulting to the top thanks to their win in Texas. But 24 hours after that, the red side of New York reclaimed their perch as the top dog in the East.
With two games still to play, the top seed is very much up for grabs, but it has certainly been a wild ride to this point.
“Obviously, we're all rooting for Houston to get points so that we can set ourselves up,” Marsch admitted. “But I think that team is doing well, and it's driven us. It has driven us in so many different ways. The bad start, the giving up leads, to being tested by other teams doing well. It has made us hungry, and it has made us drive to do better, to get better, to be the best.”
Added McCarty: “It’s been a great, very MLS type of season with teams jockeying for positions, going on big winning streaks and then some losing streaks. We started the season 1-6 and if you would have told us we'd be fighting for first in the East right now, people would have probably called him crazy but this team has a lot of character. We're a veteran group and we know if you have a slow start you can always get back into it.”