|photo by Matt Kremkau
HARRISON, NJ - Second-half goals by Lewis Morgan, Luquinhas, and Omir Fernandez powered the New York Red Bulls over New York City FC, 3-0, to advance to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals for the first time since 2017.
All throughout the tournament, head coach Gerhard Struber spoke about its importance in the view of the team and the supporters. Given the team's history, making the finals twice but never winning the trophy, the Red Bulls were looking to take another step toward achieving that elusive goal, only this time at the expense of their bitter cross-river rivals, New York City Football Club, at Red Bull Arena on a dreary Wednesday evening.
The first half was a predictable physical and chippy affair filled with long balls and rough tackles leading to fouls that frustrated both sides, but neither gave a single inch as they fought their way through the first 45 minutes, ending in a scoreless deadlock.
It was the second half where the match came alive, and dramatically. The Red Bulls broke through the deadlock in the 52nd minute as defender Tom Edwards sent a terrific free-kick, headed down by Aaron Long at the edge of the box. The ball wound up on the feet of Lewis Morgan, who deftly flicked it into the back of the net.
The frustration came to a head when NYCFC defender Thiago Andrade after kicking defender Sean Nealis after the play, was sent off with a red card in the 62nd minute after trying to head-butt John Tolkin after the two players exchanged harsh words for his actions.
From there, the Red Bulls punished the reigning MLS Cup champions as they doubled their lead in the 70th minute. Patryk Klimala had his initial shot saved by NYCFC goalkeeper Luis Barraza. But the ball bounced free in the box, and midfielder Luquinhas beat the NYCFC defenders, maneuvered around Barraza, and ripped a shot into the far left corner.
The match was put on ice less than a minute into stoppage time as Steven Sserwadda made his U.S. Open Cup debut in the 84th minute. He would be responsible as he played the ball down the near sideline of the field, and Cameron Harper, another New York Red Bull II product, made a run to retrieve it.
From there, Harper sent in a brilliant cross right to an open Omir Fernandez in the box. The Bronx, NY native finished the play by scoring the decisive goal that sent his coach, his teammates, and, of course, the supporters into absolute delirium, seeing their hated local rivals defeated for the third time in this competition.
However, the victory came with a cost, as it was marred by a red card received by defender Tom Edwards as he foolishly got caught trading punches with Maxi Moralez after the final whistle was blown. Putting a damper on an excellent performance by the Red Bulls, who will be without his services when they face the winner of the Orlando City vs. Nashville SC match on July 27.
THE BIG PICTURE:
This was a statement win for Gerhard Struber and his young team that had passed a very stiff test against one of the elite sides of the league. Now two victories away from possibly winning a cup themselves, they find themselves in a position to make history. The victory proved to be a nice feather in their collective caps and perhaps a warning when the two sides face each other again next month.