In the first Major League Soccer match played locally since March, a Brooklyn native fittingly made the deciding play.
Red Bulls right back Kyle Duncan scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over New York City FC, giving his team local bragging rights in the first Hudson River Derby played without fans Thursday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
Duncan took a chance with a long attempt in the 59th minute, running onto a failed clearance and sending a hard shot on target. NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson got in front of it, but didn’t play it cleanly. Johnson couldn’t keep it from crossing the line, as confirmed by video review, and the error on the tough shot proved to be the difference.
“I was actually saying, ‘this isn’t a goal’ because I thought it was on the line, but I was hoping it was. It turned out the result was a goal and I was pretty happy in the moment because I feel like we were putting everything out on the field,” Duncan said. “I was in the right spot to get that volley off and Sean Johnson, he just spilled it. So, it was pretty good.”
NYCFC coach Ronny Deila didn't put the blame squarely on Johnson, saying he was disappointed in the team's uninspired second-half performance.
“Sean is a great goalkeeper, and everybody has mistakes," Deila said. "And hopefully it was a goal and it was correct or that would be bad for the game. But I trust Sean. Mistakes happen, it’s how we bounce back from it, and I know we will.”
While NYCFC was built to control possession and build from the back in recent years, first-year coach Deila has been willing to favor a counter-attacking style, continuing to do so early against the Red Bulls. The team opened with some caution, allowing the Red Bulls to hold the ball while attempting to create via counters, long balls and set pieces.
NYCFC still had its chances to take an early lead on the road. Maxime Chanot redirected a Jesús Medina free kick on target with a strong header in the 10th minute, but right at the feet of Red Bulls keeper Ryan Meara. Valentín Castellanos and Héber linked up twice a few minutes later when Castellanos ran on to a pair of loose balls in the final third, but Héber couldn’t put either pass on frame.
City eventually settled into possession for much of the half, but that allowed the Red Bulls to work their high press, setting up a few scoring opportunities of their own. Daniel Royer had the home side’s best chance early after getting behind the City defense in the 36th minute, but a diving save by Johnson kept it scoreless.
The Red Bulls again started with much of the possession to begin the second half, and it paid off. After working the ball around the opposition’s half, Jason Pendant sent a long ball into the box, finding the head of NYCFC centerback Alexander Callens, who cleared it from the box. Duncan, however, was parked outside the box, ready to run on the ball and send a rocket toward the net with his first touch.
Johnson was in the right position, but made the wrong play, failing to catch the shot near his right shoulder. The ball fell past Johnson, who dove back as it neared the goal line. Johnson got his hand to it, stopping the ball right at the back edge of the line before the play was blown dead for a foul without a clear goal decision. Referee Allen Chapman went to VAR and ruled the ball had crossed the line, giving the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead in the 59th minute.
“I’m very disappointed in the second half, especially the first 15 minutes," Deila said. "We started on our back foot and never got into it. So when the goal was coming, it was almost like we deserved it.”
New York City made a few offensive-minded substitutes not too long after the goal with Alexandru Mitrita and Gary Mackay-Steven, but as the Red Bulls dropped back to protect the slim lead, City struggled to create meaningful chances. Led by Hicksville’s Tim Parker and his partner Aaron Long at centerback, the Red Bulls stayed organized in defense for the final half hour, frustrating a City side clearly missing playmaker Maxi Moralez, who was unavailable with a calf injury.
“Our principles showed up on the day," said Red Bulls coach Chris Armas. "We looked like a mature team in moments to kill the game off, and against a really good New York City team.”
The Red Bulls moved to 3-2-1 and third place in the East for the regular season, which resumed in home markets after the mostly successful MLS is Back Tournament held in Orlando from late June to early August. NYCFC dropped to 1-5-0 with just three points and sits in 13th of 14 teams.