|photo by Matt Kremkau
Aaron Long's set-piece header was all the Red Bulls needed to earn their 9th win of the season, propelling them to first place in the Eastern Conference but losing a man in the process due to a red card by beating Sporting Kansas City 1-0.
Buoyed by the win over Atlanta United at Red Bull Arena on Thursday, the team traveled to the midwest to deal with an injury-decimated Sporting Kansas City side, despite losing two of their best players, one of them, the heralded Designated Player, forward Alan Pulido, they were still considered one of the toughest teams to get a result from at their home ground.
Sporting Kansas City had the Red Bulls on their heels early and often in the first half; with forward Daniel Salloi and midfielder Felipe Hernandez leading the attack at will, they nearly managed to get on the scoreboard in the 13th minute, as defender Andreu Fontas got a brilliant ball from a corner kick to Salloi. Still, his shot sailed high over the box, negating the threat.
Sporting forward and captain Johnny Russell did his best to harass the New York defense and Dylan Nealis in particular, but his shot was saved by goalkeeper Carlos Coronel, who earned his fifth clean sheet of the season and his sixth across all competitions.
With Sporting having the Red Bulls pinned on their side of the field and having their way with making solid runs through the defense, looking more dangerous on each possession, coach Struber had seen enough and made one tactical change in the 26th minute, replacing midfielder Omir Fernandez with Cameron Harper.
That change was the difference, as the potent Sporting Kansas City Attack was stifled the rest of the match and stabilized the New York defense. After a brief weather delay halted the match temporarily due to thunderstorms in the area, the game resumed.
The Red Bulls would get on the scoreboard in the 53rd minute. After Sporting Tim Melia conceded a corner, Lewis Morgan unleashed a brilliant ball in the center of the box, which met the head of defender Aaron Long, and in the back of the net. And with that, the visitors had the lead.
Defender Sean Nealis was sent off with a red card in the 73rd minute after a lengthy video review showed that he handled the ball in the 68th minute. The ball bounced off his thigh, then clearly hitting his arm. The evidence was enough to send him to the locker room for the evening, and he will be suspended for next week's match with FC Cincinnati.
Sporting had one more chance to even the match deep into stoppage time as Daniel Salloi crossed the ball to Remi Walter, but his shot went wide to the left of the net. When the final whistle was blown by the official, the Red Bulls would be the ones enjoying an excellent road win against one of the league's most formidable sides. Should both teams survive and advance in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, they could possibly meet up yet again sometime later this month.
THE BIG PICTURE:
If I told you all that at this point of the regular season, the Red Bulls would be in first place in the Eastern Conference, second only to Los Angeles FC in the overall table and two wins away from possibly capturing a trophy since winning the Supporters Shield in 2018, one would be fitting me with a strait-jacket and questioning my sanity. Yet, here they are, despite some fine-tuning on the field and in the roster during this summer transfer window, this young team is putting the doubters to rest; if you are a supporter of the group, this is an excellent place to be in. 17 games played, 17 to go. And most of all, quite possibly, the best is yet to come.