(Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan battling Chicago’s Joevin Jones – Photo by Mike Lawrence)
The Red Bulls came from two goals down to beat the Chicago Fire 3-2 on Friday night at Red Bull Arena to avenge a defeat out there two weeks ago.
With the win, the Red Bulls claim the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 45 points (13-7-6) over D.C. United, who has 44 points (13-10-5). D.C.’s game this weekend is at Colorado Saturday night. Once that is completed, the Red Bulls will have three games in hand on D.C.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of the team’s resiliency to win after going down two goals, “We actually had a meeting this week where we talked about the belief within the group and that we knew we were going to be tested down the stretch. This is good preparation for the playoffs. You can find yourself with two goal deficits, you can find yourself up two goals and things can change quickly. It’s important for our team to deal with adversity the right way and to never stop.”
Red Bulls Midfielder and Captain Dax McCarty said of what he learned about the team tonight, “I think we know what type of team we are. We talked about it earlier this week that no matter what situation we’re in, we have belief and we know we will be able to overcome whatever situation it is whether it’s going down a goal, going down two goals, having a red card, whatever it is, we can recover from it. So tonight, not our best performance, giving up two goals, but somehow we find a way to believe in ourselves.”
Chicago got on the board with a penalty kick goal from Jeff Larentowicz in the 14th minute. They were awarded the penalty kick after Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle took down Kennedy Igboananike in the box.
In the 26th minute, the Red Bulls were crashing the Chicago net when Chicago defender Michael Stephens corralled it and sent it to midfield. Chicago forward David Accam was there to receive it and he battled Red Bulls defender Connor Lade all the way to the Red Bulls’ box on the right side. Accam went toward the center of the crease, faked out Lade and Red Bulls goalie Luis Robles and turned right to tap it in and make it 2-0. Red Bull Arena was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, as this play was the equivalent of a 90-yard touchdown pass.
Incredibly, a minute later, the Red Bulls went right back down the center of the field, as Felipe got it to Sacha Kljestan, who tapped it to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who drilled it from the right side of the top of the box for his 14th goal of the year and that cut Chicago’s lead to 2-1.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of that goal being the turning point of the game, “Yeah, that’s an important moment when you go down two, especially to get one back right back because the game is still up for grabs. We’ve talked about how no matter what situation we’re in as a team we continue to have belief on the field and we continue to push. Certainly going down two wasn’t how we planned it and we don’t want to do that too often but the response was fantastic.”
Wright-Phillips said of his goal, “Yeah I didn’t have to do much. I realized I didn’t have much time so I tried to get what I could on the ball, and that was a toe poke, and it went in.”
In the 39th minute, Red Bulls midfielder Lloyd Sam took it down the right side to the end line, and he whipped it into the box to Mike Grella, who stretched out his right leg to catch the pass. Grella then spun around the Chicago defender and buried it to tie the game at 2, and it stayed that way until halftime.
In the second half, Sam was taken down on the right side of the box by Chicago defender Michael Stephens.
The Red Bulls were awarded a penalty kick, which was taken by Kljestan, and he converted it to make it 3-2 Red Bulls.
Kljestan said of taking the penalty that led to the leading goal, “I can’t lie, that was a pressure situation. I was a little bit nervous, because you never want to let your team down whenever you take a penalty, but you especially don’t want to let your team down when you’re tied 2-2 and this is a big point that put us in [first] place. I try to keep all those things out of my mind and just focus on the task at hand. I watched Sean Johnson and he moved a bit early and so I put it the other way.”
Marsch said of this penalty and the one on Perrinelle earlier, both of which were controversial, “I will say this – not an easy game to ref. It was so explosive, a lot of explosive players, and a lot of explosive moments of transition. A lot of plays in the box. I’m not going to sit here and critique the [refereeing]. It’s a hard game to deal with and he did his best.”
Chicago’s only chance from there on out was when Jason Johnson had a clean look from the right side of the box and Robles stopped the hard shot.
The Red Bulls controlled play throughout this one, as they had possession of the ball 67.5 percent for the game, including 70.5 percent in the first half. Chicago’s two goals game on very quick plays and never had any real sustained pressure on the net.
Kljestan finished with a goal, his sixth of the season, and an assist, his 10th, continuing his stellar play of the past few months.
Marsch said of Kljestan, “Sacha’s been fantastic. It took him awhile to adjust to the things that I’m asking him to do. When he was at Anderlecht he played a deeper role and [was] a lot more tactical player. Now you start to see his creativity and his confidence on the ball. I’ve tried to encourage him to take more touches because I know how smooth he is when he’s on the move and I think his confidence has grown. Sacha’s been on a really good run and he’s been a big part of our success recently, that’s for sure.”