Want any more proof the Red Bulls are taking the Open Cup seriously?
Coach Jesse Marsch put out his strongest possible lineup for a fourth-round match against the last-place team from the North American Soccer League, and the result was pretty much what you’d expect. The Red Bulls scored twice in the first 15 minutes and cruised to a comfortable 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Silverbacks before a crowd of 5,585 Tuesday night at Red Bull Arena.
Defender Ronald Zubar, making his first appearance since the first game of the season due to injury, and midfielder Sean Davis scored their first goals for the club and midfielder Lloyd Sam netted the other as the Red Bulls advanced to the fifth round, which will be played June 30 and July 1. Their opponent will be decided on Thursday when the draw for the fifth round is held.
“Yeah, we are taking this tournament as serious as any match as we play all year,” Marsch said. “We are going to find ways to put good lineups on the field. (I’m) not sure who we will draw next but there is a good chance that it will be a MLS team. If it’s not, whoever it is we are going to take it like we are one step closer to winning a championship.
“We put a very good team on the field. I thought from the first minute they commanded the game. Regardless of who is on the field for the game, obviously you look at the selection and say ‘Yeah, that is our first group,’ but whoever is on the field for this game we are going to put forth our best effort because that's who we are as a team. We are taking this tournament seriously and we want to win this U.S. Open Cup tournament.”
And it showed. The Red Bulls took over the game from the start and never let the Silverbacks get into any kind of rhythm or flow. Atlanta finished with just seven shots, one in the first half, and Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles needed to make just one save.
“Jesse made no bones about taking this very seriously, and we had the weekend off so guys were kind of raring to go in terms of wanting to play and getting this Open Cup off to a good start,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said. “I think it's no secret that we've struggled these last couple of weeks in the league for results. The game against Houston was probably our poorest performance to date and we wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths. So a lot of the veteran guys wanted to be a part of this game and wanted to do some things to get us back on track.
“Scoring a couple of goals, and obviously keeping a clean sheet, is a bonus. It's a very important win. We know it's a game we should win. We were expected to win. We were very professional about the way we went about our business tonight. It's good to have that winning feeling again. It doesn't matter who it's against. We believe in ourselves and what we are doing here. It's nice to have that validated with a victory tonight. We know that's just one step in the right direction. It's just a small goal that we've accomplished to try and get to a bigger one. We want to win this competition. I think you saw how much we are putting into that tonight.”
The Red Bulls scored just seven minutes into the match. Bradley Wright-Phillips gained control of a pass over the top of the Atlanta defense. Turning in the right side of the box, he laid the ball off for Sam, who drilled an 18-yard shot into the right side of the net that goalkeeper Steward Ceus never saw.
Zubar made it 2-0 in the 15th minute. Felipe took a corner kick from the left and grounded the ball to Mike Grella, who laid it off for Sacha Kljestan in the left side of the box. Kljestan’s shot was stopped in front, but the ball rolled toward the far post where Zubar was there to knock it home.
“Well, it's been a wonderful night for me, so just to be out there, I mean, I never thought about scoring, I dream about it to be honest, but that is not my job so I just want to get back and play,” Zubar said. “I've been out for three months so it's great to be in the lineup tonight. The plan was to play 45 minutes or maybe a little bit less. I feel okay, so I said to Jesse, ‘Let's go to 45,’ so (I)] just go out there and enjoy (it).”
Marsch was also pleased the goal came off a set piece, something the team has been working on in training.
“It was good to see the guys execute the play,” he said. “We are trying to find ways of mixing it up, being a little bit creative to free up some guys we know are good around the goal along with good deliveries and good runs. So obviously that play was executed well and wound up a good goal.”
Davis scored an insurance goal in the 70th minute, taking a beautiful back heel pass from Grella and curving a left-footed shot from the top of the box into the lower left corner. Ceus dove and got a hand on it, but the shot had enough power to continue into the net.
“Yeah, we kind of have that Duke connection,” Davis said with a laugh. “He just knew I was there, perfect back heel, and I think a lot of the credit has to go to him really because it was perfectly weighted. He was very aware, and I was at the top of the box with an open shot. I'm lucky to have Grella there on that play.
“It was a special night for me, obviously getting that goal, but more importantly the team is back on track. It’s been a tough couple weeks for us, but it’s nice to get a nice win tonight. Everyone has worked really hard, training has been great this past week, the attitude has been great and I'm really proud of the guys.”
The only downside of the match was an injury to Lloyd, who took a hard challenge and was replaced by Dane Richards in the 24th minute. Sam suffered a groin and an ankle injury but told Marsch they were “fairly minor,” so Sam should be available for Saturday night’s home game against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“I'm actually relieved because from my vantage point I thought it was his Achilles, which is always tricky any time you're dealing with a tendon,” Robles said. “But to come in here and hear it was his groin, sure that's a sensitive area, but it's a lot less tricky than a tendon. Obviously we would hate to lose him because he's very important to our offense, but look at Dane (Richards) today, he had some chances, he was threatening, and now we just need him to find the back of the net.”
The game could have been much more lopsided, but Richards missed two open shots inside the box and a wide-open Wright-Phillips put a cross over the bar. But after years of being eliminated from the Open Cup by minor-league clubs, it was nice to see the Red Bulls easily dispatch a team and advance comfortably.
“At the end of the day it's the U.S. Open Cup, so anything can happen,” Robles said. “Today, some MLS team will lose, and if they don't lose today, some MLS team will lose tomorrow. So it was really important for us this whole week to set our mentality, make sure that it was right, and then continue with the approach that we had during pre-season that we wanted to take every competition seriously, that we wanted to win every single game, and that this is a big goal of ours, to win the U.S. Open Cup. I felt like winning today is a step in the right direction.”