Rare show of team unity underlines weight of pivotal New York Red Bulls win over Sporting KC

A few minutes after knocking off a traditionally pesky foe in Sporting Kansas City, the New York Red Bulls huddled on the field at Sporting Park. It was a rare demonstrative sign of unity for the Red Bulls and one that showed their growing confidence after an impressive road victory that moved them to the top of the Eastern Conference.

A week after coming from behind late to defeat Real Salt Lake at home, the Red Bulls grabbed a 3-2 road win over Sporting KC on Saturday night. New York’s performance in the match left a lot to be desired, as they were on their heels for a large portion of it, but the end result was more than enough to make up for that.

“There was some good things but it was not pretty from our end,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke, who was ejected late in the game. “What it did show was our character and it showed grit. This team, especially going from last week with Salt Lake, and this week what we did, it’s starting to really define who we are.

“That is extremely important and I’m very proud of these guys.”

If this sounds all too familiar, it is because the Red Bulls also talked about how much character they had after recovering from a late slip-up in their 4-3 triumph vs. RSL last week.

Unlike that game, New York were forced Saturday to deviate away from their usual system and play a counter-attacking style that was poorly executed in the first half. The second half was a different story, however, thanks to a combination of timely finishing and an overall solid defensive job.

“This showed character today,” said Petke, who sounded amused by how well his tactics worked against KC. “Sporting are a phenomenal team and they showed that today. … We knew it was going to be tough coming into this game, we knew how well they play at home and we were looking more to do a bit of counterattacking today and the counterattacking goals, they worked to a tee.”

So much so that captain Thierry Henry, who usually never gets too high off of a regular-season game, called the victory over Sporting KC a “special” one. That's due to the well-documented hardships the Red Bulls have encountered against Sporting KC in recent years, but also because it leaves New York feeling good and in first place in the East.

“That was a big win and it’s united our team,” said midfielder Lloyd Sam, who came off the bench to provide a goal and an assist. “We done a huddle after the game, which I haven’t seen us do since I’ve been here.

“It was all down to team spirit.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.