(Photo by Jason Schott)
The Red Bulls have finished with the best record in the MLS Eastern Conference the past two seasons, and Toronto FC has jumped out to a nice lead at the start of this young season.
On Friday night, the two elite teams battled to a 1-1 draw on Friday night at Red Bull Arena in a highly competitive match.
This game was slow to develop, as there were not many chances in the first half hour of play.
In the 37th minute, Toronto’s Michael Bradley was given a yellow card, which resulted in a free kick for the Red Bulls just outside the box.
Off the free kick, Sacha Kljestan headed it to Bradley Wright-Phillips on the left side, and he used a superb bicycle kick to score and give the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead. This was the fifth of the season for Wright-Phillips and his Red Bulls record 74th of his career.
The Red Bulls controlled the ball for much of the first 20 minutes of the second half, but were tentative when it came to firing shots in on net, so they did not build on their one-goal edge.
In the 70th minute, with tension starting to build, the Red Bulls’ Michael Amir Murillo took a yellow card and a scuffle ensued. (pictured above)
Red Bulls goaltender Luis Robles said of the play leading up to the penalty, “I don’t know why. I am going to tell you that wasn’t a foul. The thing that actually had me going was when Murillo made that tackle on Raheem [Edwards] it was the sort of tackle that sort of ignites a fire in a team and you can see it wasn’t just me it was everyone and we saw the way that he went in and at that moment we felt we were getting the result and so it was one of those plays that everyone feeds off of and of course during the penalty all your thinking of is just not letting my guard down. I can make this save, we are going to find a way to win this game.”
Toronto was awarded a free kick, and just as the Red Bulls did, they took advantage.
Benoit Cheyrou scored on a header on the left side after the ball bounced around the crease.
In the 79th minute, Toronto was awarded a penalty kick after Tosaint Ricketts was taken down by Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle.
In what might have been the play of the game, Robles went to his right to stop a strike from Jozy Altidore.
Robles said of the penalty save, “I wanted to be confident with whatever side I picked. The last two have gone in the opposite direction so I felt… ok, if he goes down the middle, what can I do? Whichever direction I go, I’m going to go strong and it worked out.”
Robles said of calming himself before the penalty kick, “I guess focus just comes in. You do everything you can beforehand to just try and sway the referee, it never works but you do it anyway but it felt great. It was a tough call but we haven’t seen it and like I said, I’m always going to be biased, that’s never a penalty but again, it was one of those plays where when I’m preparing, I just told myself ‘don’t let your guard down, don’t let your team down.”
Reed Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of the big save giving the Red Bulls a spark, “Yeah, I think so. I think the game can, I think that play can. It’s a shame because I think the referee could just have solved the problem by calling the foul on (Aaron) Long that got Ricketts in. Whatever. He compounded it by calling a penalty.
“But huge play from Luis. Huge play. One we needed. Sometimes when you think of big plays, you think of big goals and important moments like that. But it can often be a massive save. So obviously for us, the difference between a draw and the energy of the game, and a loss, is huge.
“I mean, it’s these little things in a season, little things in a game, little moments. So we’ve got to continue to capture those and push forward.”
In the 84th, Ricketts fired one off the crossbar, and then it appeared he had a goal in the 89th minute, bit it was waived off because of obstruction against Robles.
Marsch said of the explanation for why that goal was taken off the board, “: They said that Luis was impaired by an off-side player when the shot was taken, which I do believe happened. Like Luis hesitated for a second because I think… Yeah, that’s what I got.”
This game was a big step up for the Red Bulls, who entered this one losing three straight.
Marsch said of the definite improvement after their home loss to the LA Galaxy last Sunday, “Overall, you know, I’m really pleased with the response after the L.A. game because that looked like us, that felt like us. It was a great game. Great game from both sides…
“I thought our mentality was great. I thought our commitment to the game, our commitment to each other. I thought the life we had.
“Listen, I’m really happy with that game and that performance and our team. I think it’s going to be — I mean, even some of the games we’ve won at home, I think the energy and focus we had in game was better than a lot of those.
“So I’m really, really happy with this performance. And now we just got to keep building from here.”
Marsch said of the formation he used in this one, “It’s probably the first time we called that, I would call that a 4-1-3-2. I altered it a little bit in possession than when we were pressing. You know, I thought there were some good things about it. I thought there were some things that we were struggling to deal with.
“We got the lead, which was good. But then we made a tactical switch at halftime just to help find a little bit more balance so that we didn’t open up our midfield so much.
“It meant that their back line, they would start to get the ball a little bit more. But, you know, I mean, they made some tactical switches. Overall I thought that was a really good game, two teams that really went after it. Toronto is a good team, a good team.
“I said on TV that it’s a little bit hard to swallow because we’ve kind of been that team in the East the last couple years, and now you look at Toronto, and they’re a good team. So you have to give them credit.
“Now, I think we can, you know, get better and better and start to become more of an elite team. But right now we’re fighting through some certain things. The key is to keep confidence high and keep pushing every day to grow and get better.”
Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan said of being happy with a point,
“Yes and no, I think we could feel pretty good about maybe the type of game that we were in and that we stuck around. We also should maybe feel good that we played the best team in the league and that was a pretty even match so that shows pretty well for the future for us, hopefully. Still disappointed that we don’t get three points at home and in the end it’s probably a very fair result considering the back and forth of the last fifteen minutes of the game.”
Kljestan said of the team’s performance, “Yeah, I think we felt good. I think every guy on the field was fighting for each other, I still wish we could be better with the ball because there was so much time and space to play tonight. On a hot night they were dead, I think we were getting tired but they were dead so if we could’ve just capitalized a little more on being better with the ball, but overall the mentality y of the group tonight with determination was pretty good.”
Kljestan said of Robles’ save on Altidore giving the Red Bulls an extra boost, “Yeah, not only because he made the save, but because of the crowd’s reaction as well. It was the liveliest I’ve felt Red Bull Arena in a while. That really gave us a boost, I almost got goose bumps and when you fell the crowd like that behind you pushing you on, and you see Jesse on the sideline screaming “Push for the second goal, go for the win,” I think that we were all pretty pumped up. That was a huge moment for Luis.”
The Red Bulls improved to 5-6-2, 17 points, while Toronto is now 7-1-5 with 26 points.