|photo by Matt Kremkau
HARRISON, NJ - It took a late penalty, and local product and New York Red Bulls II product Serge Ngoma scored a crucial go-ahead goal in the 89th minute as the New York Red Bulls came from behind to defeat Atlanta United SC, 2-1
The Red Bulls returned home shorthanded as they were without defenders Aaron Long, Jason Pendant, and midfielder Luquinhas were on the league's health and safety protocol list, and defender Dylan Nealis serving a suspension from yellow-card accumulation. But just before kickoff, to the relief of coach Gerhard Struber and the supporters, all three players were cleared to play, with Long making the starting XI, Pendant and Luquinhas on the bench for New York.
On the other hand, Atlanta United had more than nine players unavailable due to season-ending injuries, relying on bench players and reserves from their Atlanta United 2 side. Basically, a patchwork starting IX for United head coach Gonzalo Pineda.
In comparison to their performance against Los Angeles FC, where the Red Bulls gave the league and western conference leaders everything they had, this time, the performance was lackluster right from kickoff, to put it mildly. Leaving the head coach visibly annoyed with his team as they wasted opportunities to put the match on their terms, giving the visitors opportunities to take control of the match.
In the 27th minute, Atlanta nearly cashed in one of those opportunities when Ronaldo Cisneros took a shot from the right side of the box, only to fly harmlessly into the stands. Atlanta would continue to press their attack seven minutes later, as Luiz Araujo found a soft spot in the New York defense and, after taking a brilliant pass from Matheus Rossetto, tried to give his team the lead only to be thwarted by the sure hands of New York goalkeeper Carlos Coronel, making the timely save.
Red Bulls finally showed some signs of life in the 39th minute. Omir Fernandez took a nice pass from Aaron Long and charged toward the Atlanta defenders, taking a shot from outside the box, but that chance feebly sailed high and wide to the right.
By the time the referee Alex Chilowicz blew his whistle ending the first half, the hosts would be the ones feeling somewhat relieved that they could nearly sleepwalk through it with both teams scoreless.
The Red Bulls came out flying second half with purpose. Still, they could not put away any chances to frustrate both their head coach and the supporters, who wondered if the team was suffering from an exhausting cross-country trip from California on Sunday.
But Atlanta broke through the goalless stalemate in the 75th minute. Coronel made the initial save, but the ball was sitting in the box, where Martinez could easily tap it into the back of the net for the one-goal lead, stunning the home fans into silence.
With time not on the Red Bulls' side, they needed a lifeline, and they got it when Caleb Wiley fouled Luquinhas deep inside the box in the 82nd minute, and Lewis Morgan was able to easily convert the penalty kick, bringing the match on level terms, 1-1.
But the match turned on its head in the 89th minute when 16-year-old Red Bulls Academy product Serge Ngoma immediately jumped on a bad giveaway from Rocco Rios-Novo and beat defender Alex De John to the ball and charged right toward the Atlanta net, and with cold-blooded precision, sliced the ball past goalkeeper Rios-Novo, causing the fans in attendance to explode with joy and relief.
THE BIG PICTURE:
The New York Red Bulls' youth movement has served them well, at least for tonight, as the "Dog Days" of the MLS Regular-Season schedule begin in earnest. First, Steven Sserwadda showed his moxie, nearly single-handedly dragging the team back into the fight before LAFC could close out the match with a 2-0 victory on Sunday.
Now Serge Ngoma dramatically scored his first MLS goal, becoming the third-youngest player to score a goal in franchise history. He is the third-youngest player in league history to achieve a game-winning goal for his hometown club.