With the retirement of Thierry Henry, the firing of well-liked and successful coach Mike Petke and big roster overhaul that left many wondering about this season, the New York Red Bulls understand they have to prove themselves this year under new coach Jesse Marsch.
So far, so good. A win and a tie in two games.
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Bradley Wright-Phillips scored a goal and set up another by Lloyd Sam and Red Bulls defeated rival D.C. United 2-0 on Sunday in a home opener that was marked by disgruntled fans chanting support for Petke after the kickoff.
”Hopefully, the fans were pretty happy with what they saw,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said. ”If not, we’ll have to get better, won’t we?”
There is no question that the fans are in Petke’s corner after he led the team to the Supporters Shield in 2013 for the best regular-season record and then within a game of the MLS Cup last season.
At the start of the game, the Red Bulls’ most loyal fans behind their goal chanted ”Michael Petke” over and over and held up a banner ”Legends Deserve Better.”
”We understand that there is a lot of stuff that can easily be a distraction,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles, who had five saves in posting the shutout in Marsch’s home debut.
”But when we cross that line, it is about playing for each other and we understand at the end of the day we are going to be judged by our results. I felt the guys played very well.”
Marsch understood the fans support of Petke.
”My goal again is the team,” he said. ”If the team is right, then people will like the team and like me in turn. I am not trying to win a popularity contest. I am trying to coach a football team to be the best in the league.”
D.C. United (1-1-0), beaten by the Red Bulls in the playoffs last season, didn’t really show up until the second half, and that was not good enough for coach Ben Olsen.
”I don’t know what we think we’ve earned or what gives us the right to step on the field in the first half with that type of mentality,” Olsen said. ”That will change. I know that.”
”It’s a loss against our rivals,” United defender Steven Birnbaum said. ”No one is happy here.”
Chris Pontius had D.C. United’s best scoring chance when they were awarded a penalty kick in second-half stoppage time. His shot sailed five feet over the crossbar.
Wright-Phillips, who tied the MLS single-season record with 27 regular-season goals in 2014, got his first in the 25th minute. He took a long pass from McCarty on the edge of the box, took a touch to settle the ball and then right-footed it into the corner of the net beyond the reach of goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
”He lost some pretty good service last year (Henry),” McCarty said after catching the United defense being too aggressive.
”We’re going to have to find ways to get him the ball in the box. You give him a sniff, he is going to score goals.”
A takeaway by Felipe Martins sent Wright-Phillips toward the goal in the second half and he found Sam on the right side of the penalty box for a shot that beat Hamid short side in the 71st minute.
The Red Bulls had the better of the play in the opening half, taking nine shots and getting five corner kicks.
D.C. United had two excellent chances with the best coming in the 33rd minute when Robles made a sprawling save on a shot in the box by Chris Rolfe and McCarty then had to make a sliding tackle to clear the loose rebound.
Pontius also got off a good header on a United corner kick in the 37th minute, but it was right at Robles and he had no problem catching it. Rolfe also had a good chance in the second half after Sam’s goal.