The New York Red Bulls (12-9-2, 38 points) responded to their classic derby loss of a week ago with a champions air. They came back from a goal down to post a 3-1 triumph over Orlando City SC (8-10-6, 30 points) at Red Bull Arena. Though it would be easy to point to Bradley-Wright Phillips go ahead goal or Sean Davis bending it like Beckham, or the continued development of Michael Murillo as the keys to tonight’s victory, there was one nominee who dressed quickly and left the locker room with minimum fanfare who served notice that New York was not going to sit and take punches all night.
Felipe didn’t score a goal or record an assist tonight. But on a night where the Red Bulls were short handed and taking a physical beating, this game screamed for someone to take command. And that’s actually what this 5’7” Brazilian did. In a twenty-minute stretch he changed the timber of a contest that saw Orlando City on the transition way too often. The score was 1-1 at that point but suddenly there he was. Heading out danger balls supporting the defense, or holding possession and keeping it away from multiple threats or playmaking by putting precision passes unto feet that created a flow to the offense or putting down bigger men to the ground when necessary. This was most welcome as Captain Sacha Kljestan had one of his most difficult games.
This period of excellence allowed the Red Bulls to catch their breath. Then they pulled out the big gun, Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has been lethal of late as he put away a cross from Alex Muyl to put them ahead in the 60th minute and then was promptly substituted for with an eye for this Tuesday’s U.S Open Cup semifinal in Cincinnati.
“We needed to find ways to get a lead and see if we could make some adjustments,” Red Bull Head coach Jesse Marsch said, “Getting through the game and also making sure we were going to have our legs Tuesday.”
Wright-Phillips sits now with 14 goals for the season and one goal in four consecutive games. The Red Bulls have seen a surge in scoring as the Reds have tallied twenty goals in their last six games while Marsch now sees a player with a snipers mentality.
“He’s (Wright-Phillips) become so much of a cut-throat goal scorer,” Marsch said, “He’s always been a great goal scorer but lately he’s focused when he gets the chance and buries it.”
Another player who has developed a killer instinct is Sean Davis, who continues to thrive since the formation changes with a total game. He had an assist which set up Bradley’s goal and in the 80th minute he struck. He promptly put the game out of reach with a piece of brilliant footwork. Davis received the ball outside the box on the right side and sprinted across the line until he reached the key, where he unleashed a shot that curved on a grand arc into the left side just beyond a diving Joe Bendik to make it 3-1 with ten minutes remaining.
“For three years he’s been a good player but it’s been about trying to unlock him a bit and tactically think about how to use him appropriately,” said Marsch.
Another player that closed off a few mistakes in the defensive back four was Michael Murillo who saved at least three goals with last minute tackles to first keep things even and later to preserve the lead. He is one young player that Marsch sees as a foundational block to build on in this late season surge.
“He’s a bright and talented guy. He’s athletic and he’s a competitor,” said Marsch, “It’s just to get him to ramp up a bit so he understands how we play. He’s a guy we’re going to count on, no doubt.”
The loss of Sal Zizzo to a red card suspension made New York vulnerable early as attested to the free wheeling Lions leading to Carlos Rivas’ opening goal. But the Red Bulls stiffened and Murillo had a lot to do with it. An own goal evened the match at one at the half for the Reds.
“When we get leads, not to take anything for granted, stay on top of the details. The more we do that, the better the team will be,” said Marsch.
The Red Bulls play Tuesday against Cincinnati in the semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup and then to Portland Friday night before returning home to face NYCFC in another Hudson River derby duel.