HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls were not publically admitting to being fazed too much by the mounting pressure in recent weeks, but make no mistake, they felt it.
The Red Bulls ended their six-game winless start to the season with a 2-1 triumph at home over the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night, and in the process lifted a heavy burden off their shoulders. The club had been at the center of much negative attention for not being able to pick up three full points, and it was only getting worse with each passing game.
Then came Wednesday’s showdown with the Union. After a somewhat even and scoreless first half, the Red Bulls took a 2-0 lead in the second half before a red card to Ibrahim Sekagya for a handball in the penalty area allowed the Union to trim the deficit in half via a Sébastien Le Toux penalty kick.
Down a man, New York had to dig deep to preserve their lead in the waning minutes of the match. But they did just that, earning a victory that they knew was long overdue.
“Let’s be honest here, we are seven games in and we’re without a win [prior to tonight], but only two losses though,” said head coach Mike Petke. “Obviously, there is some tension within myself. I wouldn’t call it outright pressure, but this is New York and this is the Red Bulls. Everyone who has been around this team long enough knows the pressure I put on myself, so, yeah, you saw a lot of relief after that second goal went in because the way things have been going this year, a one-goal lead is not good enough and as you saw what happened with the penalty kick.
“Yeah, definitely a relief. I feel like it’s a bit of a monkey off the back. Last year, we had a slow start, but this year it dragged on a couple games more. For me, it’s getting this out of the way and now moving on.”
Part of what allowed the Red Bulls to grab their first win of the season was their ability in front of goal. The Red Bulls attack – which was the league's highest-scoring unit in 2013 – sputtered for much of their initial six games and they scored more than one goal on just one occasion during that opening stretch to the campaign.
Wednesday was a different story. The offense continued the gradual progress it has shown in recent matches, creating chances and looking dynamic. The reward eventually came, with an unmarked Thierry Henry scoring the opener in the 57th minute and Lloyd Sam adding a second with a gorgeous and rare header 10 minutes later.
“I think for the most part this year, we have created chances like that,” said midfielder Dax McCarty. “We’ve had a lot of crosses in the box, we just haven’t really been able to get on the end of things. We haven’t been able to finish plays off and the final ball has always been lacking a little bit. That’s the difference between a team that hadn’t won a game all year and a team that could probably have three or four wins already.
“It’s just that quality in the final third.”
Even during this opening rough patch of the season, the Red Bulls never lost their self-belief. They knew that the team that underwent so few changes in the offseason still possessed the type of quality that saw them claim the Supporters’ Shield last year.
It just took sticking together and fighting through some difficult moments to finally have three points to show for it.
“What [do you do], you give up? That’s not the way to do it. You don’t give up,” said Henry. “You come back and try to play harder and that’s what we did today.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.