Going into their U.S. Open Cup fourth round match against the Wilmington Hammerheads, the New York Red Bulls knew that they had to come out strong from the opening whistle and take control of the game early.
Within the game's first moments, the Red Bulls did that with a Seth Stammler early goal, propelling the team an eventual 2-1 win.
"It's important to get the first goal in these games just to settle down a little bit," said interim head coach Richie Williams. "We had a lot of energy at the beginning of the game."
In humid conditions with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, New York maintained good possession of the ball in the midfield while limiting the hosts' chance. In the fourth minute, the Red Bulls earned a much-needed cushion.
With arguably the hardest shot on the team, Stammler often practices striking the ball from outside the penalty box towards the end of each training session.
On Wednesday, one of Stammler's bombs found the back of the net.
After collecting a pass from Mike Magee, with time and space, Stammler ripped a shot from 20 yards out into the top left corner, beating goalkeeper Bart Creasman.
"We talked about [taking an early lead] ever since we came down here - to put our mark on the game, [to not] let them get confident," Stammler said
Because of the early goal, the Red Bulls were able to sit back while Wilmington was forced to press for an equalizer. The New York defensive back four, which changed in the 33rd minute after Marvell Wynne came off due to an injury and was replaced by Steve Jolley, stayed solid, restricting the Hammerheads' attack.
"It set the tone," said goaltender Tony Meola. "I think the fans wanted to get into the game and when an MLS team comes, they're certainly a little more revved up ... We quieted them down and really had control of the first half."
Cila, Ikangu Make Notable Impact
After halftime, Williams used two of his four substitutions, bringing on midfielder Elie Ikangu and forward Jordan Cila.
Williams was forced to go to his bench due to injuries suffered by players including Todd Dunivant, Jerrod Laventure and Marvell Wynne.
Ikangu and Cila said after the game that any opportunity they get is a chance to prove themselves and they did not disappoint.
Ikangu slotted into an attacking midfielder role and was active in breaking up challenges and creating for his teammates.
"Richie told me to come in and play simple, to play with a lot of energy," Ikangu said.
Meanwhile, Cila turned out to be the hero on Wednesday night. After Wilmington earned an equalizer in the 85th minute, the Red Bulls took the lead back almost immediately after Danny O'Rourke took the ball to the right side of the penalty box and crossed it to a wide open Cila, who rammed it into the back of the net.
"I was hoping to get an opportunity to play today," Cila said. "I've only played about 20 minutes this season [in league games] so anytime you get a chance to show what you can do, [it's big], especially when you haven't played much."
The substitutes' strong play in training throughout the year was noted by several Red Bulls.
"They're great," Stammler said. "They really haven't seen that many minutes. We've said all along that our reserves are more than capable of coming on and playing important roles for us and I think they did that tonight."
Also playing was Meola, who made his return to the Starting 11 after missing time due to a bacterial infection in his right foot and ankle. Meola made three saves, including tipping over a Kevin Nylen header that was bound for goal in the second half.
"He played well, he was very solid in the back and he hasn't played in a while so getting him back into the game was great," Williams said.