(The Red Bulls celebrating after an early goal – Photo by Jason Schott)
The Red Bulls returned to MLS play with a dominant 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Saturday afternoon at Red Bull Arena.
This came just days after an emotional loss to Chivas de Guadalajara in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night at home, so this was just the performance they needed in their first MLS game in a couple of weeks.
The Red Bulls came out strong, with Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring in the fifth minute when he came down the right side and put a rocket inside the far post to make it 1-0.
This was Wright-Phillips’ fourth of the season and 90th career league goal. It also was the Red Bulls’ fastest goal this year.
The Red Bulls got a couple of chances after that, but their performance became sluggish the rest of the first half, and Montreal started to put some pressure on net.
In the 33rd minute, they were awarded a free kick just outside the box, and Jeisson Vargas fired a rocket above the defense and curled it inside the right post to tie the game at 1.
In the second half, the Red Bulls dominated from the start, and in the 57th minute, Wright-Phillips fired a shot that was punched back in the crease by Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush, and Kaku was there to fire it in and make it 2-1 Red Bulls.
This was Kaku’s first ever goal as a Red Bull and a major step in the right direction for the Argentinian, who got the start in this one after coming off the bench in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of Kaku, “Yeah, I thought first half he was pretty good, though. I just thought that our ability to work, like part of his — he has more freedom than most of the players on the team, right, because he’s a creative player and he’s a No. 10.
“So he can kind of move around to find the game but the key for him is to not drift to the wing all the time. The key for him is to stay in the middle sections where we need him to be a conduit with the ball but also to be available to counter press and now do the things we need to do against the ball.
“So that part for him today was the best. He didn’t drift wide. He didn’t try to go to easy places to find the ball. He was in places that are difficult and tight but he’s gifted enough to do that. So we’re trying to encourage him.
“And then the part about the pressing tactics. It was a little bit easier today because he could almost just stay on (Ignacio) Piatti, and that was kind of his role, and we’ll have to continue to build in different things on different days. But I think today he showed a comprehensive understanding of what we need him to do and obviously his ability to make plays is quite good.”
In the 76th minute, Kemar Lawrence came down the left side and fired one through the crease to Michael Murillo by the right post, and Murillo simply stuck out his right foot and flicked the ball in to make it 3-1 Red Bulls.
Marsch said of this being the game he wanted from his group just days after being eliminated from the Champions League, “Yeah and I I even think the way it went where we showed vulnerability in the first half, and we knew that we weren’t going to be perfect on the day because of fatigue and mental grind. And then at half time we visited that carefully and said, come on, the task at hand is: How good can we be at managing this moment mentally more than anything and making sure that we are on top of things so that we got out of this game with the result that we need and we can then move on with our season appropriately.
“You know, I expected to see moments like we saw in the first half where — where, you know, we weren’t as engaged and on top of things as we were. And then I was hopeful that when that would happen, that we would find a way to get our strength back and then find a way to get the result.
“And so that kind of went according to plan or what we needed, so I think that we found that it’s never easy, but there’s a lot of strength within the group in many ways. Yeah, obviously a good result, an important result and good for us to get three points after everything we’ve been through this year.”
With the win, the Red Bulls improved to 3-0-2, with nine points, in sixth pace in the Eastern Conference, but with a game or two in hand on the teams ahead of them.
Marsch said of what was different in the second half and what was said at the half after a lackluster opening frame, “Listen, I’m not going to call players out, but I would say mostly as a group, right it was — because even what few guys or a few too many guys are dropping their heads or not engaged or tuned in, then it’s still up to everyone else to take ahold of it and make sure that it doesn’t slip.
“It’s always a collective. You’re always trying to challenge each individual to grow and get better within the group, but in the end, it’s all about the collective understanding how to manage it, which we saw in the second half, which was very good…
“I don’t think it was as much tactical as it was now mental, and then making sure that the tactics were cleaner. So that was both in the pressing and with the ball. The game was there for us with the ball and we were just making too many mistakes, not enough movement, not enough guys that wanted the ball, and that all — that rhythm and that confidence changed in the second half, but a lot of it was their mental sharpness to stay on top of the game.
“So I mean, yeah, you could say it’s some tactical but we didn’t change anything. Tactically at half time, we changed nothing. And I think I may be talked about a couple of things that we needed to adjust with the ball, but it was all about our approach, and so that’s what got us to the end.”