(Sacha Kljestan – Photo by Mike Lawrence)
The New York Red Bulls took the top spot in the MLS when they beat the Montreal Impact 2-1 on Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena.
The Red Bulls now have 54 points, with a record of 16-9-6, three points ahead of the LA Galaxy (51 points, 14-9-9) for the Supporters’ Shield. The Red Bulls also opened up a six-point lead on DC United (48 points, 14-12-6) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Red Bulls dominated early, and they got a huge break in the 16th minute. Bradley Wright-Phillips took a shot that bounced around the box like a pinball machine, and Montreal defender Ambroise Oyongo stuck his arm out and made contact with the ball, which ultimately was swatted away by their goalie, Evan Bush.
Oyongo was given a red card, and Sacha Kljestan took the penalty kick, which he drilled to make it 1-0 Red Bulls.
In the 27th minute, Red Bulls midfielder Lloyd Sam was taken down in the box on the right side by Marco Donadel, who was given a yellow card.
They were given another penalty kick, and Kljestan took it again, but this time, Bush guessed correctly that Kljestan would go right, and he made the save.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of any possible hesitancy with letting Sacha take the second PK, “I don’t sit on the sideline and [say] who takes the penalties – that’s [the players’] decision. We know that Sacha has become the shooter now and if he doesn’t feel good about taking the second one, then Brad’s ready to step up and take one but I’m not going to be yelling from the bench [who to take the penalty]. That’s part of their decision-making on the field.”
Didier Drogba picked up the ball from the spot before Kljestan took the kick, and Kljestan said of whether that affected him, “Not really. I’m glad that the rest of the guys had my back and they came in and tried to shove him off the ball also. It’s gamesmanship, it’s whatever. Teams have been doing that to us all year. We don’t seem to get any respect cause the referee should just give him a yellow card and walk him away right there. But that didn’t mess me up, I just think I hit the second penalty without any real conviction and that’s my fault.”
The Red Bulls would get another goal before halftime, as Sam out back a rebound of a Wright-Phillips shot on a bang-bang play to make it 2-0 in the 39th minute.
Sam said of his goal, “There were a lot of guys in front of me so I knew it had to be kind of precisely under the bar. I’m happy to see that go in.”
Montreal’s Didier Drogba had some good chances in the first half, including a breakaway in the fifth minute and another in the 43rd in which he got off a point-blank chance.
Drogba would break through in the second half on a penalty kick in the 68th minute that resulted from him being taken down in the box by Ronald Zubar, who got a yellow card.
Even though that made it 2-1 with about 25 minutes left, the Impact never really threatened, as shown by the Red Bulls’ having possession for 71.2 percent of the second half. They had the ball for 68.4 percent of the entire match.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of their success defending Drogba, “Yeah, I thought the job done on Drogba overall was really good. The frustrating thing for me is why he does what he does with the penalty – he’s a classy player. There’s no need to do something like that. Again, I thought the team did a good job on Drogba and made it harder on him, which was a big task on the night.”
Marsch said of grinding out ‘gritty’ wins, “I do think even before we went up a man that we pushed the game hard and fast and we could’ve been up earlier than that. From the get-go, our group was pretty sharp and committed to play the way we want to play. Huge three points for us today, huge three points. Puts us on top of the table, puts us in good shape, gives us a couple days to recover and then we get ready for another push in the final three games.”
On the satisfaction of a midweek victory after not having much success previously with them this year, Marsch said, “We had some games earlier in the year that went awry in different ways and that we let slip. This game I felt that we handled ourselves for the most part well. It was a little bit crazy in the second half but we kept our heads and we kept pushing the right way and we were able to get out with a huge three points.”
Marsch said of the Supporter’s Shield talk intensifying, “No, we haven’t talked about it. It’s a fair question, we’ve obviously put ourselves in a good position but we go day-by-day and game-by-game. I should come here with a tape recorder.”
Red Bulls Midfielder Sacha Kljestan said of the win, “Yeah, an important win. Not a perfect game by any means; we could’ve been sharper, we could’ve not let them back in the game in the way that we did, but overall the most important thing is three points. Very pleased with the result. You know, a lot of wins at home this season have been very important – this one puts us a good step in front of the rest of the group behind us in the East and then also as we go towards the Supporters’ Shield. So overall a very good result tonight.”
On whether the Red Bulls’ game has changed, become more possessive, Kljestan said, “I mean, I think that’s because of the way the game was tonight. Because we were up a man for so long, they were just going to sit back and we were going to have so much possession. It’s hard to create chances when they’re just sitting back in a blockade and leaving one guy high; you can pass the ball around all you want, but they’re making it very hard to create chances. Having said that, we still created a few chances – you know, Bradley Wright-Phillips got unlucky on a couple of occasions, one with the post and one with the goalkeeper, so. You know, that’s not how we drew up the plan, it’s just how the game worked out because we were up a man for so long.”
Red Bulls Midfielder Lloyd Sam said of the team’s performance while a man up, “Yeah, first half I thought we were good playing a man up. Second half, we weren’t really creating enough, which has happened a couple times this season. Overall, we needed three points and we got [them].”
On the trickiness of midweek games and the importance of keeping focused, Sam said, “Yeah, it’s very important. I always fancy us at home. Wednesday games are difficult but I’d say it’s more difficult for them to come here and get it on a Wednesday than us. I fancy us at home against anyone.”
Sam said of his recent run of form, “I’ve been trying to score as many goals as I can this season. It feels great to be getting goals and helping the team. Home games we always seem to create more chances. I’m happy to be getting in those situations to score goals and thank god they’ve been going in.”
On defending Didier Drogba, Sam said, “Yeah, I felt the defense did well. He scored his penalty, had a couple chances, but obviously he’s a world-class player so it’s always going to be difficult.”