Harrison, NJ – New York Red Bulls got back on track on Saturday beating San Jose Earthquakes 4-1 in the club’s home opener. RBNY celebrated their record-setting 2018 Supporters Shield campaign by unveiling a banner at half-time bringing back former Red Bulls Ibrahim Sekagya and Mike Grella from the 2013 and 2015 winning squads. Along with Sporting Director Dennis Hamlett, they lifted the trophy in front of the South Ward supporters section as a token of their appreciation. The Shield was also displayed on the BULLevard outside of the arena for photo ops with fans.
Celebrating our third @SupporterShield in six years!
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) March 17, 2019
Winless on the road at Red Bull Arena, San Jose tried to crash the party early. In the fifth minute, Magnus Eriksson does well to spot winger Christian Espinoza making a run in behind RBNY fullback Kyle Duncan and plays a through ball into the channel. Espinoza speeds into the box and hits a low shot, across goal to beat a diving Luis Robles. That goal by Espinoza ended the Red Bulls run of consecutive clean sheets at home, dating back to August 5, 2018 vs. LAFC.
San Jose continued to attack the inexperienced Duncan, who was playing out of position at left-back with starter Kemar Lawrence still injured. Connor Lade was in the 18 for New York, but did not play after struggling vs. Santos Laguna in Tuesday nights CCL meltdown. Duncan admittedly underestimated Espinoza’s speed and was caught upfield on too many occasions. Earthquakes right-back Tommy Thompson also gave him some issues on overlapping runs.
Trailing 1-0 after 45 minutes, manager Chris Armas made adjustments to the press which really shutdown the Earthquakes attack in the second half.
“We thought we let San Jose have a bunch of spots in the first half, so we talked [during half-time] about being aggressive and adjusted how we would press” said Armas during the post-match press conference. Armas went on to explain his tactical tweak, saying “they were exposing us on the flanks. So we flattened out a little bit with Alex and Danny, which kept our full-backs home and started running our #10 [Vincent Bezecourt] out to press more. We thought that helped a little bit.”
Armas’ slight adjustment allowed Duncan to stay home and cutoff service to the San Jose wingers. While the midfield tightened up and forced turnovers. Red Bulls were on the front foot coming out of the break and scored four unanswered goals in the second half.
Alex Muyl proved to be the difference maker for New York after subbing on earlier in the game for an injured Florian Valot.
Muyl leveled things in the 51st minute by getting on the end of Royer’s low cross into the box. Muyl also scored his second goal of the match in the 71st minute after some set piece trickery from New York. Sean Davis and Daniel Royer lined up to take a free kick, Davis fakes a cross into the box and instead, plays in Royer who makes a unmarked run down the wing. Royer gets past his defender and sends in a low cross into the area. The ball gets deflected and falls to Muyl, who strikes it on the volley, putting Red Bulls ahead 2-1.
Armas gushed over Muyl’s performance after the match, saying “he doesn’t get enough credit or appreciation from outside [the organization]. On the inside, we know what he brings and have the pleasure of working with a guy like him, who gives so much to the team everyday. So I was thrilled that he could come in and influence the game the way he did.” Armas continued “he understands the way we play, we call him a philosophy player. He works, he runs, he’s intelligent with what he does and doesn’t get enough credit for his quality. What a game changer he was for us”.
Bradley Wright-Phillips adds to their lead in the 85th minute after cutting in front of a defender and tapping in Sean Davis’ near-post cross. Daniel Royer puts the final nail in San Jose’s coffin with a clinical, top shelf finish assisted by Michael Murillo.
However, we learned it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for RBNY after the match. During the press conference, Armas was asked about Kaku not dressing for the game. Armas begrudgingly told reporters:
“We had a minor internal issue and we dealt with that quickly, it’s nothing to talk about or discuss here”. Adding “there might be some more questions, I’m just not going to address it. It was a minor internal issue, we dealt with it and we’re moving on with Kaku. 100%”.
Earlier in the week, Kaku put out a tweet saying “sad when you realize you’re not as important as you thought” which could be interpreted as foreshadowing for his rumored summer exit. Adding to the speculation around Kaku, he was noticeably absent from the schedule magnet given away to attendees at Red Bull Arena for the opener. Surely Kaku would be featured on the magnet along with Wright-Phillips, Robles, Long and Davis if team brass believed he’d be around long-term. Maybe we’re reading too much into the tea leaves on this, but it is definitely a storyline to watch going forward.
New York will host Orlando City next Saturday – March 23 @ 7:30 PM at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. The match will be available on ESPN+ and MSG+.