The Lion Sleeps Tonight: New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC


Since NYCFC were in Los Angeles, and since no one offered to fly me out there to cover it (thanks for nothing, ESPN), I decided to spend Saturday in Harrison with New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC. Take the opportunity to watch two of NYCFC’s conference rivals (and potential playoff opponents) duke it out. See if there’s anything I could learn. And if, in the process, I could also accidently trip as I crossed the Jackson Street bridge and smash my phone, well, so much the better.

Mission accomplished.

So herewith, some observations about the match between the New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC. Which may or may not be useful to fans of other teams as well.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight: New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC

Jonathan Spector’s absence was a gamechanger.

Before Red Bull fans get their knickers in a twist about this, let’s be clear; the Red Bulls won the game, fair and square. They dominated the second half and neutralized Orlando City’s attack. That said, one cannot overlook the importance of Jonathan Spector to Orlando City and the impact his absence had on the game. He has shored up the back line and he is exactly the kind of player that Jason Kreis loves.

If he’s on the pitch in Harrison not only is the own goal in the 30th minute that tied up the match unlikely, but Bradley Wright-Phillips’ goal in the 60th minute is too. And again, I have all the respect in the world for the Red Bull striker. But one has to expect that a player of Spector’s caliber does not allow a striker of Wright-Phillips’ to be unmarked in the box like that.

And speaking of Bradley Wright-Phillips…

The guy is colossal. Every season you think someone will have figured out how to shut him down, and, nope, there he goes again, scoring more goals. It’s insane. But the guy can’t do it all himself and despite the recent outcome between New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC, it’s clear the Harrison side are still struggling to find someone who can put the ball in the back of the net whose name does not end in “Bradley Wright Phillips.”

Yes, Sean Davis scored a beautiful goal to put the game away. But the other two goals were an own goal and one by the aforementioned Mr. Wright-Phillips. Which is why the loss of Daniel Royer during the most recent Hudson River Derby was such a serious blow to the Red Bulls. Of the 34 goals the Red Bulls have scored this season, 24 have been scored by Royer and Wright-Phillips. And with Royer a week to week fixture on the injury list, the Red Bulls would appear to be, once again, vulnerable in the attack.

No way Kaka should have been sent off

Sure it was ill-timed and yes, it was hands to the face. But it was clearly horseplay among friends. Clearly. Watch the video for yourself. They’re both laughing. As they were when I saw them after the New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC match in the tunnel talking to friends and family. No way in a million years that’s a red card. No way. Except, of course, in MLS.

Gosh, New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC don’t like each other

All that said about the foolishness of Kaka’s red card, it was pretty clear throughout the match that these two teams really don’t like each other. Not just because of the seven yellow cards (and, of course, the red), but also because of the over all physicality of the match. Lots of hard tackles, late tackles and pushing and shoving. And then there was the chatter. At each other, at the referees, and the benches. It was non-stop. Which leads to this humble note to the MLS home office. You keep trying to force a rivalry between Orlando City and NYCFC. You may want to redirect those efforts across the river where there may be more fertile ground.

If Yoshi Yotun, Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin can work together, the Simbas are gonna be scary.

Yes, the Red Bulls managed to keep Larin from scoring. And yes, he came out in the 87th minute, and yes, Dom Dwyer didn’t even make the 18. And yes, as we have seen time and again, just because you have talented players on the pitch in the same kit doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed. But should those three figure out how to work together as well as, say Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have up in Toronto, then Orlando City are going to give a lot of teams headaches. In his first match for the side, Yotun showed that he has the skill in the midfield that Orlando City need. And with Dwyer and Larin up top to feed, and with Kreis calling the shots, the top of the table could get very purple very soon.

Tyler Adams is getting a PhD in Jesse Marsch

Even NYCFC fans have to admit that the 18-year-old from Wappingers Falls, NY is the real deal. The kid is good in the air. He completes a decent percentage of his passes. He moves well off the ball. And he looks like he fears absolutely no one on the pitch. But what is perhaps most important is the relationship developing between him and his coach Jesse Marsch. Wherever Adams was on the pitch, Marsch was yelling him instructions. When there was a break in play between New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC, Marsch was always buttonholing him to explain what he needed Adams to do and why. This kind of attention for someone as young as Adams can turn a good player into a truly great player.

What does this all mean?

As I said before, it is highly likely that these teams will be in the playoffs. Hell, this is MLS. It’s not out of the question that LAFC will be in the playoffs. So anything you can learn about a possible opponent is good. And I probably needed a new phone anyway…

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