1. First-Half Struggles
It’s never easy to play on the road in the season-opener, let alone against a team playing its first match in front of a sold-out crowd.
Whether it was the hostile atmosphere or the fact that the Red Bulls had to travel across the continent in under 72 hours after their CONCACAF Champions League exit, there was no question about the team’s first-half performance: it wasn’t good enough.
The Red Bulls didn’t manage a single shot on target against goalkeeper Alec Kann in the first 45 minutes and were completely overrun at times. Atlanta deservingly took the lead after sustained pressure in the 25th minute.
2. Second-Half Surge
It looked as if the Red Bulls were destined for a loss in this opener, but timely substitutions from head coach Jesse Marsch in the second half changed the game.
Mike Grella and Derrick Etienne were brought on for Sean Davis and Alex Muyl, as Marsch searched for a way to ignite a struggling New York attack. While there were some hairy moments, the Red Bulls eventually began to wrest control away from Atlanta and finally cashed in against a tiring Atlanta defense in the 76th minute when Daniel Royer smashed home a headed equalizer off of Sacha Kljestan‘s corner kick.
With Atlanta on the ropes, the Red Bulls seized the initiative. Their second goal was a thing of beauty — three quick, decisive passes that carved open the defense leading to Anton Walkes turning the ball into the back of his own net.
“We talked about it at halftime just giving a little bit more,” Marsch said. “Being a little bit clearer tactically, making a couple adjustments, but being a little bit sharper physically, putting more into the game and now taking the crowd out play by play. I thought for the most part, in the second half, the effort was really good, obviously, a great comeback and a lot of spirit within the team.”
3. Robles Keeps New York in the Game
There wouldn’t have been a chance for a comeback were it not for the efforts of Luis Robles, who literally saved the Red Bulls from defeat.
Already down a goal, Robles made this brilliant reaction save on Josef Martinez in the first half.
His athletic save on Miguel Almiron’s chip might have even been better.
The departure of Dax McCarty means others must fill the leadership void the former captain left when he was traded to Chicago. Robles is not only a vocal leader; he also backs it up with his play on the pitch.
Up Next: Home-opener Saturday vs. Colorado Rapids, 4 PM.
Final Word: It’s always great to come away with three points on the first day of the season, but this win was so important to the psyche of the team after their CCL loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. With the offseason fully behind them, the Red Bulls can put their complete focus on the 2017 season.