Following the 3-1 defeat to Toronto on Wednesday, the New York Red Bulls traveled from a very humid New Jersey to an equally humid Central Florida for a Sunday night showdown with Orlando City SC. With only five points separating fourth-place New York and ninth place Orlando, the playoff race is still wide open. OCSC are trying to keep pace with Toronto, New England and Montreal to secure one of the final seven playoff spots. Meanwhile, NYRB are seven points behind conference leaders Philadelphia Union and finishing the season in first place is well within the realm of possibility.
The game got off to a very lively start with what was inches away from being an own goal. Sliding to prevent what would have almost certainly been a goal by Daniel Royer in the 4’, Orlando City’s Ruan intercepted a low cross and almost put the ball into his own net off a deflection. Orlando winger Nani nearly had a goal of his own when his right-footed effort went just high over the bar.
The Red Bulls dominated early possession, starting the game off with four corners in the first thirteen minutes. Amro Tarek had New York’s closest chances to score in the first half with a couple strong headers, which were all admirably saved by Orlando’s Brian Rowe.
The 30’ minute saw Orlando’s best chance to break the stalemate up to that point. It came off an interception from Nani which led to a miss wide right by midfielder Will Johnson. That missed opportunity would come back to haunt OC as New York would break the deadlock two minutes later. Kaku put in a curling cross which found a streaking Brian White, who slid and got a boot to it. The ball deflected off Rowe’s foot, who had been near perfect up until then, and bounced into the back of the net for a Red Bulls goal.
Orlando would make some immediate adjustments after the New York goal, controlling more possession and applying some very aggressive counterattacking football. Nani would have a chance to level up the match in the 36’ as he hit a stinger missile with his right foot but it flew wide right. A free kick set up by a foul on Chris Mueller saw another Nani-led rocket sail just wide of its intended target.
The second half saw the first (of what would be many) forced saves from Bulls keeper Luis Robles. Tesho Akindele cut the ball to his right foot and struck a beautiful curling effort from outside the box. Had it not been for the outstretched hands of a diving Robles, the ball would've surely found the back of the net.
OCSC had been applying more attacking pressure at the end of the first half and picked up right where they left off in the second. Carlos Ascues got the fans out of their seats in the 59’ minute when he put the ball off the woodwork from a cross by João Moutinho. The crossbar was rattling again in the 70’ after a flash of lightning from Tesho’s right foot. The ball almost ricocheted off of Robles’ back into the goal before it was cleared away. Ex-Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan would have an opportunity to get one back against his former club with a strike of his own in the 77’. The woodwork was shaking, rattling and rolling again after Kljestan’s effort and the mass chaos that ensued in front of goal would only result in a goal kick.
Despite the heavy offensive pressure being applied by Orlando and thanks to a few key saves from Luis Robles in the second half, the Red Bulls head back to New Jersey with all three points. Next up, they welcome Columbus Crew SC to Red Bulls Arena for a Saturday clash.
Orlando will follow NYRB’s flight path and continue further north to visit one of the teams they are fighting for that much coveted playoff spot, New England Revolution.