HARRISON, N.J. — Daniel Royer put in perhaps his most impressive shift of the season, the New York Red Bulls winger assisting in a 1-0 win over Atlanta United Sunday afternoon.
His influence on the match, however, went much further than merely providing an offensive spark.
The talking point will be that assist, however.
It was an impressive 90 minutes from Royer, who sent a curling cross from the right flank that found the head of Tom Barlow to give the 10-man Red Bulls a win over the defending MLS Cup champions. The performance, against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, was a gutsy showing from a New York side that has now won four of their last five matches.
The goal in the 65th minute came very much against the run of play. Center back Sean Nealis, inserted in the first half after Tim Parker received his red card, drove up the field and played a smart ball to Royer on the wing. On his second touch, Royer sent a perfect cross to the edge of the six-yard box that Barlow headed across the face of goal, the ball bouncing and tucking inside the far post.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) May 20, 2019
It was an improbable sequence for a team that faced unrelenting pressure in the second half.
“I saw Barlow sprinting. I also saw the defenders running back,” Royer told me after the match. “He’s really fast, so I just tried to clip it in there and go far post. When the ball left my foot, I thought ‘He’s not going to reach it’ but he’s really fast, had a good jump. He got a good touch on the ball. It was a great goal. He really deserves that.”
Royer said that the Red Bulls, despite being a man down, still wanted to win. It was a determined performance from the team to grind out the three points, this as head coach Chris Armas (again) made every right move tactically and with his substitutions.
Beyond the box score, Royer was the most influential player on the pitch for the Red Bulls. In the second half, he made several key stops down the flank as Atlanta, up a man since Parker received a red card in the 35th minute, looked to press their advantage.
He also did thankless work, often without support, driving the ball forward to relieve pressure as Atlanta held 67 percent possession. Royer was an important release valve for a side that was constantly defending for the majority of the second half.
“Danny Royer, what he’s meant for our team in these years, he’s very inspiring,” Armas said. “He’s always up for it and he’s intelligent on both sides of the ball, and tactically, he’s always connected. It’s not just getting guys behind the ball. There’s a lot more to it. So he did a big job.”
RED BULLS NOTES
– Following the final whistle, Red Bulls left back Kemar Lawrence and Atlanta winger Hector Villalba got into a little fracas, with some trash talk and light pushing involved. The players were separated by their teammates rather quickly.
A pool reporter asked the referee through standard league protocol if there were any cards issued for the melee.
In a written response, the referee stated, “No misconduct was issued after final whistle.”
– Sunday’s match, a tight one from the beginning, is the latest installment of a burgeoning rivalry between these two sides. The Red Bulls took the Supporters Shield last year over Atlanta only to be knocked out by the red and black side in the Eastern Conference finals.
The tension — and hatred — between these two clubs was evident from the game’s opening whistle.
“It’s nice to have that kind of rivalry between two teams,” Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer said. “That makes the sport fun I think to watch. They do everything to win it from each other. This is what you want to experience every week.”
This was de Boer’s first regular season meeting with the Red Bulls.
– The red card to Parker in the 35th minute was likely the right call, but still raised an eyebrow or two given how it all played out.
Parker, the last defender, tugged several times on the shirt of Josef Martinez, this as the Atlanta forward was just on the edge of the box. Despite the tugs, Martinez still got free and managed a shot that goalkeeper Luis Robles managed to save.
Worthy of a red card or nah?
Tim Parker is given a red for this foul on Josef Martinez and the Red Bulls are down to 10 men. pic.twitter.com/7MMfciE87R
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 19, 2019
It raised the question of if the denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity took place when Martinez not only got free from Parker’s shirt tugs but still managed to put a shot on frame that earned a corner kick.
The referee, again through a pool reporter question submitted in writing after the match, responded simply by saying “The holding offense by RBNY Tim Parker denied the obvious goal scoring opportunity.”
But is it a denial of a goal scoring opportunity if a goal scoring opportunity still arose from the situation? Robert Sibiga made the call on the foul and the red card to Parker following a consultation with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), a decision that was loudly booed at Red Bull Arena.