(Damien Perrinelle (55) and Kemar Lawrence battling for the ball – photo by Mike Lawrence)
The Red Bulls got their first win in six weeks, as they beat Real Salt Lake 1-0 at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night.
The Red Bulls broke a five-game winless streak, the last four of which were losses, and improved their record to an easy-to-remember 5-5-5, with 20 points on the season. Ironically, their last win came on May 10th against New York City FC, whom they match up with this Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of building momentum heading into matchup with NYC FC, “I think it’s hugely important. 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 so it’s 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 hugely important to get the result tonight.”
On the change in the team since first matchup with NYC FC, Marsch said, “Well that was our last win so it feels like an eternity ago, but I think what we learned about ourselves in the past month in a half is that we need to continue to grow. Our leaders need to continue to grow and push themselves, the understanding of what a true team mentality is needed to grow, and in this stretch where we’ve lost some games, we’ve been able to uncover little things about ourselves that are going to be more important to ourselves going forward. I’ve said from the beginning that the results haven’t been hugely important as much as I want to continue the progress of our team, and I think we’re actually going to benefit from that four game losing streak because it forced us to look hard at ourselves-each individual and as a group in what we’re doing and where we’re going, both soccer wise and as a group. I feel like we’re going to use that as good lessons for that and we’ll move forward as a group.”
The Red Bulls came out with a definite urgency in this one against Real Salt Lake, and it didn’t take them long to break through. Four minutes in, Kemar Lawrence came down the left side, fed it across to Sean Davis, who was getting the rare start, at the top of the crease, and Davis dropped it off to mike Grella, who came down the right side and tipped it in from about five feet out to make it 1-0 Red Bulls.
Grella said of how important it was to get that first goal and set the tone, “Absolutely, they were coming from a long trip they had just played on Sunday I think it was. It was good to jump all over them high press we won a lot of balls up there (end) and got the goal right away. I was really surprised we didn’t kick on from there. It just seemed like it (the ball) didn’t want to go in. We could have been a little sharper, but it was very important to get the early one (goal).”
Sean Davis said of his mindset on the goal, “Damien (Perrinelle) clips a ball in, it gets blocked, but then Brad finds Kemar through, Kemar makes a great run forward, I find myself in the box which is what I have to do in that role, get in the box and try to be dangerous, I let it come across my body, I don’t hit it completely right but I try to get it back to the back post and luckily Grella was there to clean up.”
The Red Bulls kept the heat on, but the Real Salt Lake defense was like a brick wall at the top of the box, as evidenced by their six blocked shots in the first half, out of 12 shots overall by the Red Bulls.
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles made a big save on a Joao Plata shot in the 28th minute and leaped to grab a long shot in the 40th minute.
After the save in the 40th, Robles could sense that RSL was caught and he fired it up to the center line to Felipe, and it took a big bounce into RSL territory. As it settled down, Felipe and RSL midfielder Javier Morales got tangled up, and both hit the deck. At first, no call was made by the referee and the Red Bulls went ballistic, feeling that Morales took him down. After a minute of deliberating, the referee pulled out a card: it was a Red card for Morales.
This was a tough call, as both players were going for the ball, and neither had their balance when contact was made. It is hard to justify a straight red card on this play, as it was a 50-50. A card could have easily gone to the Red Bulls player, or at the least a yellow card to Morales. Red cards also are given if it’s an accumulation of tough plays, and that was not the case here, as the game was very clean to this moment.
Morales was asked about it afterwards, and he said, “It was weird because the referee didn’t call even a foul. He looked to the second official, he said play on and I think it was the fourth [official]. He was far away, but I don’t know maybe he has a good view and I think he said it was a red card. I tried to play the ball, I miss it, I got Felipe, but I thought Tony Beltran was there right next to me. I was like I don’t know, like 40-yards from the goal, but the weird thing for me was that the referee was right next to me and he didn’t even call [a] foul so a little frustrated about that and I don’t know why I have to say. I can say anything. They give me a red card and I have one yellow card in 10 games. I always try to play good soccer and that happens.”
In the second half, in the 55th minute, RSL’s Demar Phillips and Red Bull Connor Lade were going for a ball near midfield. Phillips went in “studs up,” as the Brits called it, and spiked Lade at the top of his sock below the knee. Phillips was given a red card and sent off, giving the Red Bulls an incredible 11-on-9 two-man advantage.
The Red Bulls poured in 11 shots, and controlled possession for 71.2 percent in the second half. Anatole Abang had a couple of nice chances in the 62nd minute and Mike Grella was all over the place, but the Red Bulls could not cash in.
The Red Bulls finished with 23 shots, and Marsch spoke of there possibly being concern about not finishing chances, “It was a weird night. There was 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.”
Marsch said of what he’s seen from Mike Grella, particularly on the right side tonight, “I spoke with Mike, maybe, a month ago, and there’s been criticism about Mike, right? Publically, in the media, and I just said to him that first of all, within the team, he’s established himself and the guys believe in him and having him on the field, everybody knows he’s been a big piece for us. And then, when you’re in this business, especially in this day in age, people are going to say a lot of things. I learned that from day one being with this organization. But it’s important to believe in yourself, have confidence in who you are and what you’re about, and in tough moments don’t let things phase you, don’t be sidetracked by anything and be strong. I think he took that the right way and ran with it and the confidence that he’s had over the last month has grown and grown and grown. Even in this tough moment for the team with results, I think that Mike has been one of the guys that’s been reliable and has gotten better. So that’s been good to see and we’re counting on him moving forward. The other part about moving him to the right, he’s versatile enough that we know we can play him in any of the top four spots. We felt that moving him to the right allowed Bradley to go to the left where he’s more comfortable; we may also move him back to the left. We think that with Sal (Zizzo), Dane (Richards), Mike (Grella), and Lloyd (Sam) even, there’s versatility with them playing on either side and it’s about trying to look at matchups and see how we can take advantage of that.”
Marsch said of the young lineup he put out there, featuring Sean Davis and Anatole Abang starting, and Manolo Sanchez and Sal Zizzo coming off the bench, “I thought that we were on top of the game from the start, getting an early goal always helps. Overall, I thought that we handled the game pretty well. First half we could have pressed at certain moments, not just pressed but really shifted and moved together a little quicker and allow fewer gaps in our team, but they weren’t really ever able to threaten us except for maybe some set pieces and putting some balls in that way. I thought overall the team handled themselves 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 and 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 so 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.”