HARRISON, N.J. – While the media huddled around Bradley Wright-Phillips to talk about what was an impressive victory showcasing fight, heart and resolve, Tim Cahill said a few words to Luis Robles in his nearby locker that illustrated just how big this win could be for the New York Red Bulls.
The words? This changed our season.
Having endured a very inconsistent and largely disappointing first half of the season, the Red Bulls were left feeling like their 2014 fortunes were set to change for the better on Saturday. You could not blame them either, not after seeing them with their backs against the walls and playing with 10 men before completing an inspiring 2-1 comeback victory over the New England Revolution at Red Bull Arena.
It was a statement win for New York, one that demonstrated just how determined they were to get three points after settling for their 10th draw of the season Wednesday and showcased how good they are still capable of being when they play to their utmost and with a fire in their bellies.
“The second half tonight was perhaps – and this is saying a lot because of our success last year – the best half in my time as a head coach and we were down a man,” said Red Bulls boss Mike Petke. “It followed what I cannot remember a worse performance of a first half that I’ve ever seen … aside from my six-year-old’s team, to be quite honest, to be very blunt.
“I’m being blunt because I’m proud of them and in awe almost, in a small way, because of being a man down and bossing them in the second half like that.”
Petke, frustrated and perplexed by the Red Bulls’ inability to be consistent a year after winning the Supporters’ Shield, didn’t stop there.
“That’s the type of thing you go home and you scratch your head,” he said. “There have been many times this year I’ve scratched my head, having a good performance followed [with] performances that were very lethargic and no creativity. Tonight, I’ll be going home scratching my head. The tale of two halves has never been more of an accurate statement in the history of sports than us tonight.”
New York’s first half performance may not have been that dour, but it did pale in comparison to showing in the closing 45 minutes in terms of effort, character and quality.
After going down to Charlie Davies’ first goal in nearly three years and losing center back Matt Miazga to a clumsy red card that left the youngster cursing his luck on the way to the locker room, a steaming Petke went into New York’s locker room and let his team have it. Curse words were slung, veins bulged and steam may or may not have emanated from the fiery coach’s head.
A belief was born in the process.
What followed Petke’s profane tirade was a valiant and impressive second-half performance reminiscent of the ones that were seen regularly in 2013 but largely absent this season. The Red Bulls came out flying, scored two spectacular goals that will likely be up for MLS Goal of the Week, and shut down a shell-shocked Revolution side that looked like the team playing at a man disadvantage until the waning moments of the physical Eastern Conference bout.
“When we fight together, we’re unbeatable,’ said Cahill, who exited the game at halftime due to groin tightness sustained earlier in the week. “When we fight in twos and threes, you can see that it is not enough. … The biggest thing was just sitting and watching the belief, not only with the players that played but the players that had come on.
“I think tonight just shows what we’re capable of. You see glimpses last week against Real Salt Lake, the football there, and you see glimpses against Arsenal. Tonight, [is] the icing on the cake because I know that those three points were massive.”
Fully aware that they need to build on this moment to truly make it a defining one in their season, the Red Bulls often repeated postgame the need to deliver this type of performance again next week, the week after, and the week after.
It won’t be easy, but the confidence to do it is there now.
“It looked like we were playing 11 men and they were playing with 10 men,” said Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry. “That’s the type of desire we need to have all the time. If you can win a game 1-0 down at halftime, playing with 10 men, you play with the same attitude with 11 players hopefully we can create more damage."
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.