The New York Red Bulls spotted the San Jose Earthquakes an early lead on Saturday when Christian Espinoza eluded defender Kyle Duncan and beat Luis Robles to his short side in the fifth minute on Saturday. The 0-1 tally put last year’s regular season champions on their heels.
As last season’s points leader, the Red Bulls raised the Supporters Shield in a pre-game ceremony prior to Saturday’s home opener. This only served to underline the gap in quality between the Red Bulls, who earned that Shield by amassing 71 points last season while the Earthquakes had 21, fifty points less than RBNY, the lowest point total in the league in 2018.
Not surprisingly, San Jose made some changes in the off-season, with the team’s biggest move coming behind the bench, where the Quakes made a high profile move to bring in former Chivas boss Matías Almeyda.
The Almeyda move brought a certain amount of legitimacy to the organization, but their remains a lot of work to for the coach to do before that positive image translates onto the pitch.
Duncan was replacing MLS Defender of the Year finalist Kemar Lawrence who is still out injured. The Red Bulls depth is a team strength, and it was further tested at Saturday’s home opener, with coach Chris Armas needing to replace suspended DP and assist leader Alejandro Romero Gamarra, AKA Kaku.
Kaku’s absence was all a bit of a mystery when the team’s talisman was left off the game day roster. Initially described simply as a coaches decision, it was later revealed that Kaku had been suspended for the match. Afterward, Armas said this of the situation:
“We had a minor internal issue, and we dealt with that quickly. It’s nothing to talk about or discuss here.”
Earlier in the week, Kaku had raised eyebrows when he tweeted, in Spanish, “Sad when you realize, you’re not as important as you thought.”
Kaku also was very interested in making a winter move to Mexican club America, raising the question of a possible lack of focus for the Paraguay international.
Muyl Shines as Red Bulls Depth Tested
The Red Bulls depth would be tested once more when Florian Valot had to leave with what looked like a knee injury in the 30th minute after a collision with Quakes midfielder Judson. Valot missed the majority of last season with a knee injury, so there was quite a bit of concern among the Red Bulls players and staff, who were understandably reluctant to speculate on Valot’s prognosis.
Alex Muyl replaced Valot and the all-action midfielder would turn the game on its head, translating his typical energy into tangible results, scoring a second-half brace to propel the home team to at 4-1 victory.
Muyl, whose work rate stands out even on the hard-working Red Bulls, has been criticized for his final touch, be it a pass or a shot. The Manhattan native has scored two, three, and three goals in his three seasons with the Red Bulls, so yesterday’s tally was as impressive for Muyl as it was necessary for his club.
Second Half Onslaught Leaves San Jose Quaking
The Earthquakes maintained their slim lead into the halftime break but Muyl’s first strike leveled the match in the 51st minute. Bradley Wright-Phillips started the sequence when he drew a strong save from San Jose keeper Daniel Vega. Vega was in hard luck, however, when his save caromed directly to Daniel Royer, who found Muyl alone in front of goal.
Muyl took his chance and the sides were level.
When Muyl struck again, the goal, if not necessarily the goalscorer, seemed inevitable. The score came from a trademark Red Bulls set piece, when Sean Davis fed Royer, after a bit of misdirection. Royer’s cross was deflected but still made its way to the San Jose goalmouth where the alert Muyl smashed home a close-range volley to give the home team the lead.
The Red Bulls had the bit between their teeth now and for the new look Earthquakes, a familiar feeling of dread must have begun to creep in. Two late and remarkably similar goals for the Bulls sealed the deal and left San Jose glued to the bottom of the West Coast standings with a 0-3-0 record.
The Red Bulls goals came from Wright-Phillips whose deft touch finished a driven cross from Davis in the 85th minute and Royer, who tapped home a similar cross from the opposite wing from fullback Michael Murrilo in the 89th.
Both goals came from the inside the six-yard box after the Quakes wide defenders had been beaten, an area of vulnerability that Almeyda will want to address.
As for the Red Bulls, it is always good to start the home schedule with a win but the old attendance issue raised its ugly head once again, as an announced crowd of 15,621 failed to come close to filling the reduced capacity Red Bull Arena, a sobering note on an otherwise celebratory day for the MLS original franchise.