Injury-ravaged and down 2-1 at halftime to the Houston Dynamo, the Red Bulls faced a critical moment in their 2016 campaign this past Saturday.
With a 0-3 start staring the defending Supporters’ Shield holders straight in the face, coach Jesse Marsch urged his team to show resolve in the second half.
“[Marsch] said play like we played last year,” Felipe said to Tina Cervasio in his post-match interview. “We cannot play afraid.”
The Brazilian midfielder took his coach’s words to heart and played fearlessly, inspiring the Red Bulls to a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind win with two spectacular second-half goals.
His perfect free-kick in the 83rd minute was simply a moment of magic. With an attempt from 20 yards away, he curled the ball past Dynamo goalie Joe Willis and sent Red Bull Arena into delirium.
It can’t be overstated how important the win was for the Red Bulls, especially given the circumstances. Both central defenders –Gideon Baah and Ronald Zubar – had to be subbed off due to hamstring injuries and the home side also lost winger Gonzalo Veron to a hamstring injury early on.
“The message [in the second half] was if we’re going to go down, let’s go down swinging,” said Sacha Kljestan. “Let’s actually not be scared to play, let’s play out of the back at all costs, let’s push the game, let’s just go out there and do something.”
Mike Grella had tied the game in the 63rd minute only for the Dynamo to take back the lead two minutes later. From then on, it was the Felipe show. A long-range effort from 30 yards away nestled into the net in the 77th minute and set the stage for his heroics minutes later.
“Given where we are this season, [the second half] was a pretty big moment,” Marsch said. “In the end, I just wanted to see what our team was made of and after 90 minutes they made me very proud.”
After being barren in front of goal in their first two contests, the Red Bulls unleashed a deluge of goals. Unlike the first two games, the Red Bulls turned their domination of the ball – 57.8 percent ball possession – into balls hitting the back of the net.
Their first goal was a combination of alert play from Kljestan and direct dribbling from Veron. After Veron forced Dynamo left back DaMarcus Beasley on his heels, Kljestan was there to pounce on the loose ball and fire home the first goal of the season.
The second goal came off a set-piece situation, with numbers in the box. After the initial free kick was cleared, Felipe sent a cross into a dangerous area. The ball luckily bounced off of Grella into the net after a mad scramble.
Goal No. 3 was simply an outstanding shot from Felipe. His curled effort – like his free kick later on – was unstoppable after being struck from quite some distance.
The goals are an encouraging sign that the Red Bulls’ attack is starting to trend in the right direction. After being stifled by defenses early on, Marsch’s men were able to adjust their tactics and found a way through.
The injuries to Baah, Zubar and Veron put somewhat of a damper on the Red Bulls’ win, as all three players were subbed due to suffering hamstring injuries. Marsch was forced to shuffle the defense and had to play Kemar Lawrence – normally, his starting left back – in central defense, a position he had never played until Saturday. Karl Ouimette came on for Zubar with Connor Lade coming off the bench and going to left back.
The makeshift backline did well under the circumstances, although Marsch would have preferred to ease Lawrence in at center back.
“Kemar at center back has been a discussion,” he said.
“We haven’t worked on it much. Funny, the only other time we used him at center back was last year at Houston. Twice, he’s played center back and twice against Houston. There is potential for that to be a spot for him. It’s just we think very highly of him at left back, but he has qualities that could fit us to play center back.”
Fortunately for New York, it won’t be in action this weekend and will have some time to heal some of the walking wounded. The Red Bulls will be back in action Friday, April 1 against the New England Revolution.
“We have two good weeks to recover and get ready to go at it again,” Marsch said.”