Mission accomplished, I guess.
The Red Bulls had talked all week about snapping their four-game losing streak and getting three points any way possible Wednesday night against Real Salt Lake. Even an ugly victory would do, they said.
Instead, they played very well, especially the young players that coach Jesse Marsch inserted into the lineup, as well as defenders Kemar Lawrence and Matt Miazga, who got their first starts since returning from international duty.
The funny thing was, the ‘ugly’ part of the Red Bulls’ game came after they were up a goal and had a two-man advantage. They just could not get the second goal that would have killed the game. Instead, they had to sweat out a 1-0 victory before a crowd of 15,844 at Red Bull Arena
“It was a weird night,” Marsch said. “There were obviously a few different opportunities to score goals and put it away, but right now I'm not concerned with that. Right now, I'm happy to have three points and get out of a four-game skid and look forward to the game on Sunday (against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium).”
The Red Bulls received all the breaks that went against them in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, when they gave up an early goal after missing a penalty kick, then had midfielder Sacha Kljestan sent off. Against RSL, it was the Red Bulls (5-5-5) that scored early and RSL that went down to 10 men, then nine, as the game wore on.
“I thought that we were on top of the game from the start, getting an early goal always helps,” Marsch said. “Overall, I thought that we handled the game pretty well. … I don't know all the statistics, but that's probably one of the youngest teams that Red Bull has put on the field.
"We talked a lot about establishing things with young guys here, trusting young guys, helping them mature, grow, and get better, and in an important moment we put a lot of young guys on the field tonight and they came through for us. That was, I think, an important moment for the club to, A: get out of the losing streak, and, B: see a bunch of young guys help us do it.”
Marsch gave 18-year-old forward Anatole Abang his first career start and dropped striker Bradley Wright-Phillips to the left side of midfield. Sean Davis replaced Kljestan in the center of the park, Miazga gave Ronald Zubar a breather at center back and Connor Lade started in place of Chris Duvall at right back. All the newcomers played well, which will leave Marsch with a pleasant problem for Sunday.
The game started just the opposite of the last one for the Red Bulls, who outshot RSL, 22-4, and had a 14-5 advantage on corner kicks. In the fourth minute, Wright-Phillips sprung Lawrence on the overlap on the left. Lawrence cut the ball back to the center of the box where Davis redirected it to the far post for Grella to knock it past Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando. It was the first career assists for Lawrence and Davis.
“It was good to jump all over them, (the) high press won a lot of balls up there, and (we) got the goal right away,” Grella said. “I was really surprised we didn't (go) on from there. It just seemed like (the ball) didn't want to go in. We could have been a little sharper, but it was very important to get the early (goal).”
That was it for the scoring but not the action. While Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles needed just two saves for the shutout, he had little to do. Meanwhile, Rimando reaffirmed his place among the best goalkeepers in league history, not just with his positioning on his six saves, but his leadership that kept Real Salt Lake (5-6-6) pushing on in the face of a couple of questionable calls.
The first came in the 40th minute when referee David Gantar, after consulting with the referee’s assistant on the left, ejected RSL’s Javier Morales for a last-man foul on Felipe, who was running onto a long throw from Robles. The foul appeared to be a yellow card at worst.
The second came 10 minutes into the second half when RSL defender Demar Phillips slid in to knock the ball away from Lade. Lade fell over Phillips’ legs but Gantar pulled out the red card believing it was a studs-up tackle when replays showed it wasn’t.
Instead of prospering playing 11v9 the final 35 minutes, the Red Bulls seemed thrown off their game. Having to balance looking for the second goal against not giving up the tying one, the Red Bulls weren’t able to break through the RSL defense with confidence and abandon. And when they did, Rimando was there to make big saves.
“It is a difficult one because you have to actually do the opposite of what you think you need to do,” said Grella, who played one of his better games of the season. “You want to kill them off and get the other goal and press, press, press, but the thing is, because they are two men down, they sat in their own end, they sat in their own box, and they made it really difficult.
“The key for that is just being patient, and I think we started to become more patient and figure it out, but when they had the two guys sent off we were still playing long balls into them, giving them chances playing into their keeper, and I think we learned as the game went on we needed to be patient and build chances and just be sharper and making the ball hit the back of the net.”
“After the second red card, my message to them was the same thing, ‘don't shut down mentally because the only way they're going to score is if we slip up,’ ” he said. “At that point, I think they were okay leaving 1-0 if you just look at the way they were wasting time, they were alright with that 1-0 loss, they didn't want to get embarrassed. The message was simply to all the defenders and central midfielders to not shut down, and (they) did a great job.”
So the losing streak, the longest since May, 2010, is over. Now comes NYCFC and the second derby game of the season. So how important was getting the three points and building momentum vs. RSL?
“I think it's hugely important,” Marsch said. “I think, mentally, it's been a test, and I don't think we've been fazed too much by it, but we've been tested now, so hopefully we are now through that stretch and we've gathered ourselves and our confidence and we're getting our guys back and physically ready to go.
“(There’s a) potential that Sunday will be a chance to put our legitimate first-choice lineup out on the field, and if we do that, then we're going to go after it, and in a big game, feel like we're ready to go, so (it was) hugely important to get the result tonight.”