It was an ominous scene, after one half of soccer at Red Bull Arena. Dark clouds gathered in force over the roof symbolizing a season on the brink as the New York Red Bulls (6-6-2, 20 pts.) were behind and shooting blanks. Then suddenly a ray of light shined through courtesy of their perennial best, Bradley Wright-Phillips, who sparked the 2-1 come-from-behind win over the New England Revolution using his heel.
The Red Bulls first half was played exactly to Head coach Jesse Marsch’s specifications. In fact, in 2017 they never played better. The only blip was a penalty which gave the Revolution’s Vietnamese Viper, Lee Nguyen, the honors of putting it in goal for a 1-0 lead they would hold until the opening minutes of the second act.
And what an act it was. A stirring moment to be sure with Bradley showing off his well-established penchant for public heroics. The ball was sitting loose on a rebound after a Kemar Lawrence cross was smothered at first then came loose from Revolution goalie Cody Cropper and for a moment Daniel Royer hesitated as it trickled to Wright-Phillips, who one touched it off his back heel smartly into open space to the goal. It was such an instinctive move it left even Bradley at a loss for words.
“I thought he (Royer) fumbled it at first, “Wright-Phillips said, “I was trying to get the rebound. It was a weird one.”
Marsch, for one is never surprised and is always pleased to see Bradley do his thing. “Brad is incredible. He can score goals in so many different ways. How clever and quick he was to make that kind of play. He’s unique.”
But heroic moments can arise from personal tragedy. Especially for a humble 24-year old who lost a loved one. Kemar Lawrence was struggling with personal issues but it has never affected his play.
“I’m focused but you can’t just put that to the side. My grandmother was my best friend. I spoke to her everyday. It’s weird she’s not here,” Lawrence said.
“I had so much anger but I have to put on my game face and express it on the field or the game gets away.”
And express it he did with another passionate night of play demonstrated by his work on the left flank that brings an extra dimension to the attack in addition to his responsibilities on the defensive end. It paid off not once but twice this evening when his cross to the far right found Daniel Royer, who put it away into the low netting to complete the comeback and his fourth goal of the season.
“If your on the sideline, you wonder what I am doing,” Lawrence said, “It’s just the facts, the way we play. I’m just all over the field making plays in different areas,” Lawrence said.
“Kemar, not just today but for the last six weeks, has been our best player,” Wright-Phillips added.
This game was a true test, a challenge to each man on this team. Two games ago after a loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, team captain Sacha Kljestan did not have the words to explain what had gone wrong. Now, with more aggression he put his stamp on the field through actions, something he recently re-committed to. It showed.
“The last two weeks, I’ve been trying to talk less and do more on the field,” Kljestan said, “Everyone has talked about how non-great I have been this season. If you look at statistics I lead the league in chances created so I don’t think I’ve been as bad as most people said.”
Now a two-game road trip with visits to Montreal and Philadelphia again are next on the agenda, but the Red Bulls discovered much about themselves on this evening and they know now they can rely on those things in the coming days. “I felt our team is coming together and turning the corner a little bit,” Marsch said, “We are starting to understand this is who we are.”