The Big (Red) Apple; 2017 US Open Cup Recap (New York Red Bulls-NYCFC)

Robert Cole/ALOST


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief


HARRISON, N.J. — Although it was a different competition led by a different head coach (for the time being), the result of the Hudson River Derby was the same – the New York Red Bulls once again found their way into the winner’s circle.

Substitute Daniel Royer scored on a well-taken volley in the 67th minute as the Red Bulls defeated New York City FC 1-0 in the fourth round of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, with the win marking the sixth time in seven all-time meetings that Red has triumphed over Blue in the New York City rivalry. The team’s first meeting in the knockout competition was also the first time the Red Bulls entered a match with NYCFC without head coach Jesse Marsch leading them, as he was serving a one-game touchline ban following last season’s loss by the Red Bulls in the competition to the Philadelphia Union. Red Bulls assistant coach and former Major League Soccer player Chris Armas, a native of the Bronx, took over the coaching duties tonight.

“For me, not sure how this will be taken, but I didn’t look at it as this big opportunity,” said Armas, in his first-ever game leading the Red Bulls’ first team. “I know it’s not about me. It’s about the guys tonight.”

After NYCFC had the lion’s share of the best chances in the first half to score, the Red Bulls’ high-pressing style started to wear down its rivals, with an Ethan White turnover leading to Bradley Wright-Phillips bearing down on NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson down the left flank. Johnson charged out of his net to make the save on Wright-Phillips, with the ball deflecting high into the air and to the other side of the six-yard box. On the ball’s descent, Royer, who came on for fellow midfielder Mike Grella at halftime, was lining up to hit the ball first-time, and his remarkable left-footed volley creeped past a scrambling Johnson for the only goal of the game.

The Red Bulls’ depth at midfield makes it hard for any of the coaches to decide which ones should make the starting eleven, but they know that those who aren’t starting can make an immediate impact when coming onto the field as a substitute.

“Danny (Royer) has been starting for us all year. Probably second in team goals, right? Four, now he’s got five. What a goal he scored. But it wasn’t an easy decision to not start him either. It’s not just him or Mike (Grella). We have three or four guys, (Gonzalo) Veron included, obviously. But, listen, nights like this, I think the tendency to let it go longer, 15 more minutes. Again, you got to win the game. So we have another starter on the bench. We thought, Yes, it would make sense, especially knowing the form Danny has been in. I think that we got what we were hoping for. Just the energy, the life, I think we could all see that. I think he was a part of that second half turnaround.”

That turnaround was needed because NYCFC was the better side in the first half, and they had two glorious opportunities to open the scoring. On a counterattack in the 15th minute, forward David Villa played a ball into the box for midfielder Tommy McNamara, whose left-footed strike somehow stayed out after twice hitting the underside of the bar and the goal line before it was cleared away. Later in the half, Villa had a right-footed strike from near the top of the box hit off the foot of the post before fortuitously bouncing back towards Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara.

“Both teams had their half, and we didn’t score, we didn’t take our chances,” said NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira, now 1-3-0 in four career games against the Red Bulls. “In a game like that where you don’t take your chances, you can make a small mistake, you can finish behind. We are frustrated because we believe that if we score the first goal, the game would be different the second half.”

Influential midfielder Maximiliano Moralez was taken off at halftime by Vieira, with Vieira citing a calf injury as the reason for the move.

“Obviously when he came off, that’s one of the reasons we didn’t play as well as in the first half,” said Vieira. “It was difficult for us to find the creative players in the midfield. That’s why we struggled a little bit more in our passing game.”

The Red Bulls move on to the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup, and Marsch will be back on the sidelines when that next match rolls around in two weeks. However, Marsch’s understudy make sure to enjoy the time he had as the leading man, at least for one night.

“I enjoyed the game tonight,” said Armas, “I really did. One, we move on in the tournament, right? Mission accomplished there. Two, probably mostly important, I think we’re most proud of the coaching staff. When we see us being us, we do at the highest level, tested today. I mean, they’re a great team. To watch what they do. Again, it’s my job these days to watch how they can dismantle teams, pull them apart. Knowing what they’re going to do, knowing what we’re going to do, very conflicting. To see our guys come out ahead, moving on is good, moving on in the tournament is good. Especially that second half, I thought we had a good grasp on it.”

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