NYCFC's Vieira: Sacha Kljestan "fooled the referee" to draw penalty kick

HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls saw a penalty kick claim go unheeded in the second half of a 1-1 derby draw with New York City FC, but it was from the penalty spot that the Red Bulls found their equalizer, a Gonzalo Veron attempt in the 70th minute to ensure points for the home side.

The NY Derby series went the way of NYCFC this year, as they emerged with two wins and a draw from the three meetings in MLS regular season play between these two geographic rivals. But Friday night’s match at Red Bull Arena certainly wasn’t lacking intensity, a hard-fought and at times scrappy match feeling like a derby from the very onset.

It was a game that tilted the direction of the Red Bulls almost from the start, the team finishing with 61 percent possession and an edge in shots, shots on goal and corner kicks. But initially that was for naught, as Maxi Moralez’s 56th minute strike put the visitors up 1-0.

Then, it was a 69th minute call by referee Jair Marrufo, who judged that Sacha Kljestan was taken down in the box, was perhaps justice for a Red Bulls side that controlled the run of play. But NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira didn't agree with the call.

“I don't have to say anything more. It was really smart from Kljestan," Vieira said. "He was really smart. And he fooled the referee. It wasn't a penalty at all. It was really soft."

That didn't take away from the big moment for Veron, who stepped up to bury just his second goal of the season.

“It was a beautiful moment. I enjoyed the responsibility, it was a big kick. Down a goal, it was a big responsibility – it led us to a point,” Veron said via a translator. “I think that we showed that we were the better team for 90 minutes.”

Since coming into the league in the summer of 2015, Veron has found it difficult to find a regular role in the Red Bulls side. 

The goal comes at a time where Veron seems to be finding some form. A week ago, he scored the opening goal in the second half to kick start the Red Bulls' comeback for a 3-2 win over FC Cincinnati in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup

Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips hailed his teammate's impact of late.

"It was big of him," Wright-Phillips said of the penalty. "We've needed him of late and he's come through. [He did it in] Cincinnati, started in Portland, made a great impact in that game. And then today he comes on, we need a goal, he steps up and takes the penalty. Can't ask more from a player coming off the bench."

For midfielder Sean Davis, Veron’s roommate when the Red Bulls are on the road, the clutch moment from his teammate was no surprise. Even when many wrote him off, Davis notes that Veron never hung his head.

“A lot of people don’t see the work he does behind the scenes but he works very hard for the group every single day,” Davis said.

“That’s something that the players and coaches really respect him for. He’s going to accept his role and do it to the maximum. I’m really happy for him for the contribution tonight, we know how important he is to the team.”

With fellow midfielder Daniel Royer sidelined for a few more weeks with a knee injury, Veron’s strong form in recent weeks might lead to even more playing time and opportunities.

“You must always be ready. I work very hard during the week every week and I’m just ready for when my coach calls my name,” Veron said. “Every minute I get I do my best to help the team.”