(The Red Bulls celebrating a late goal on Sunday night – @NewYorkRedBulls)
The Red Bulls opened the MLS regular season with a bang, as they scored two late goals to beat Atlanta United FC, 2-1, on Sunday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.
This was the first game in the MLS for expansion club Atlanta United, and they took the early lead on a goal by Yamil Asad in the 25th minute.
The Red Bulls tied it in the 76th minute on a goal by Danny Royer, which came off of a free header on a Sacha Kljestan corner kick.
Kljestan has 35 assists in 66 regular season appearances as a Red Bull. The start was the 175th of Kljestan’s MLS career.
Atlanta got the first goal in the 25th minute.
In the 82nd minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips got a touch and did enough to cause a deflection of a Kemar Lawrence cross into the Atlanta net. The play started with a backheel pass from Mike Grella to Lawrence.
Atlanta’s Anton Walkes was credited with the own goal.
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles continued his iron-man run with his 141st consecutive league start. He made three saves, including a point-blank stop on Josef Martinez and also snagged a chip attempt out of the air to preserve the victory.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of the game, “Imperfect is what I would call that performance, but it’s early in the year so we are still working through getting our group sharp and getting the tactics down. Atlanta tested us in a big way in the first half and we took a punch but hung in there. We talked about it at halftime just giving a little bit more, being a little bit clearer tactically, making a couple adjustments but being a little bit sharper physically, putting more into the game and now taking the crowd out play by play. I thought for the most part, in the second half the effort was really good, obviously, a great comeback and a lot of spirit within the team.”
Robles said of the comeback win, “It sure doesn’t feel like the first game of the season, that’s for sure. We were just joking around that something about this game, maybe the atmosphere, the quality of the opponent, it just felt like a playoff game. Nonetheless, it’s a great way to start the season. It’s kind of strange because we’ve already been playing games, yet this literally is the beginning of the season. It’s something that we can build off of. Obviously there’s a long way to go until we get to our peak performance, but I think there are a lot of good things we can take away. More importantly, the best thing we can take away is our will to win and our will to keep fighting.”
Sacha Kljestan said of his first game as Red Bulls captain, “It feels good. I spoke to the group after the game and said I was proud of the team. As the game wore on, things were getting desperate but nobody looked nervous and nobody looked like they were going to lose that game. I feel like we looked around at each other and everybody had a feeling that we would make something happen. At least get a tie. Guys that came on the field as subs made a huge difference and a couple guys made a few special plays and it was pretty amazing atmosphere against a pretty good team.”
The Red Bulls are 8-9-5 in season openers and 4-7-4 in season openers on the road. New York wins its season-opener on the road for the first time since an April 3 win at Columbus in 2004.
The match came just three days after New York’s Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League second leg in Vancouver. New York traveled overnight on Thursday and arrived in Atlanta Friday morning.
New York’s lineup featured nine of the same starters from Thursday night. Damien Perrinelle and Alex Muyl entered the starting lineup, replacing Aurelien Collin and Gonzalo Veron.
Aaron Long made his MLS debut in the match. Long played a full 90 minutes in both of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions league matches over the last two weeks.
New York is 12-13-8 all-time in the month of March. New York has scored 44 goals in March and allowed 48.
Dan Metzger and Michael Amir Murillo made the MLS game-day roster for the first time. Metzger, a Red Bulls Academy product, was signed this offseason, while Murillo is currently with New York on loan from San Francisco FC in Panama.
Marsch said of Atlanta and the atmosphere there, “Atmosphere – amazing, phenomenal, really impressive. Another jewel in the crown of MLS. Their team is good. Tata Martino is a good coach. He has a clear tactical way of doing things. They tried to exploit us on the wing a bit. They’ll be good.”
Kljestan said of Atlanta, “Awesome. Atlanta seems to be doing a lot of things right. The training facility was top-notch. The atmosphere of the stadium with the fans – amazing. Atlanta as a team I think is pretty good. I think they will do pretty well this season. They’ve got some talented players and they dare to play. It was a pretty fun game tonight.”
The Red Bulls return home to open the eighth season of soccer at Red Bull Arena next Saturday, March 11, when the Colorado Rapids visit for a 4 p.m. ET kickoff. Coverage will be on UniMas and Red Bulls Radio.