Fielding a young, rotated side in searing heat on the road against Supporters' Shield-contending Austin FC?
It's all part of the evolution of the New York Red Bulls, who pulled off a thrilling 4-3 win Sunday night at Q2 Stadium ahead of their midweek US Open Cup semifinal against Orlando City SC.
"It was a fight until the last second to bring the points home with a very young group," said New York head coach Gerhard Struber after the match. "Today I can see that we have the right roster."
HIGHLIGHTS: Austin FC vs. New York Red Bulls | July 24, 2022
Just take a look at the scoresheet. New York's goals were scored by four different players with an average age of 21.5 years old, including 17-year-old homegrown Serge Ngoma, who went off with an injury in the 32nd minute, and his replacement, 20-year-old Cameron Harper.
"My feeling right now is not super sexy," Struber said when asked about Ngoma's injury. The young phenom's goal was his second in just seven MLS matches, the next in a series of exciting young talent to come through the Red Bulls' pipeline.
"This group is young and you cannot always expect from a group like that that you play on the highest level. For younger players it’s sometimes a bit of a roller coaster," added Struber. "This is the challenge when you work with a younger group. I think from the outside this sometimes looks maybe a little bit easier, but this is for me and my whole coaching team. Everyone in my coaching team did a great job to prepare in the right direction."
Struber was effusive in his praise of New York's entire technical staff, listing by name all the individual members of his coaching, analytics and fitness team and crediting them with a vital three points, keeping them third in the Eastern Conference standings after Week 22.
"This is not only a one-man show from me. This is a big teamwork, what we have. Otherwise you cannot win against Austin with such a young group," he gushed. "I needed my team. Everyone. I can trust my whole coaching team in a very, very high level. This is the reason we can pick up points with a very, very young group."
Austin's Q2 Stadium is as difficult a proving ground as anywhere in MLS. With the temperature a withering 100 degrees at kickoff, Struber's fledgling side handed Austin just their second loss at home this season and improved their road form to 7W-3L-2D.
"I’ll be honest: I had no clue about their home record before the game," admitted U22 Initiative midfielder Dru Yearwood, who notched a goal and an assist in an influential return to the team. The Englishman had found himself frozen, missing the team's last four matches in what he called "not the most ideal situation." Yearwood echoed Struber's plaudits for the squad after the win.
"One massive thing that the gaffer said was that no one has come to Q2 and pressed them in the heat. No one’s got in their faces and killed them the way we did. I think today we showed that. It’s that fearless mentality we’ve got. I'm proud of the boys, proud of everybody."
"What does [this result say]?" Struber grinned rhetorically. "It says that this roster is ready."