Kemar Lawrence, battling Bastian Schweinsteiger for the ball, scored the game-winner in the 71st minute. (USA TODAY Sports)
By Christian Arnold
HARRISON, N.J. – There’s an old proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, Try, try, try again.”
Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence appeared to take that notion to heart on Saturday night after missing a golden scoring opportunity early in the first half of the game. Lawrence made up for it in the 71st minute by scoring the go-ahead goal to help lead the Red Bulls to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire.
Lawrence took advantage of a ball that deflected off the foot of a Fire defender and went right to him. Lawrence fired the ball past Chicago goalkeeper Jorge Bava to put New York back in the lead.
“It was a good play,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “Brad [Wright-Phillips] was a little bit unlucky not to get on the end of it. We were a little lucky it went through his legs. It’s a dangerous ball, dangerous ball.”
The goal capped an eventful night in New Jersey that saw the Red Bulls extend their regular season unbeaten record at home to 19 games, but surrendered their first goal to an opponent in 419 minutes played at Red Bull Arena. More importantly the win helped the Red Bulls secure three points and put a bow on a successful three-game homestand.
The Red Bulls have picked up nine points in their last three games and have moved into second place in the Eastern Conference.
“We did our job like we set out to,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “This place has to be a fortress and we’re trying to do that. So far we’ve been successful.”
And that success at home had included playing well against the Fire in the past. The Red Bulls entered Saturday night’s showdown with a 5-2-1 record against Chicago at Red Bull Arena.
While the two sides traded scoring chances in the first half, it was Wright-Phillips who fired the first salvo for New York. Daniel Royer took advantage of a lucky bounce of his own, after an attempted pass went off the foot of a defender and right back to Royer.
Royer quickly sent the ball across the box to Wright-Phillips, who put the ball into the Chicago net in the 37th minute.
The Fire evened the score 22 minutes later when Nemanja Nikolic beat Luis Robles, the first time This season the Red Bulls’ goaltender surrendered a goal at home.
While the win was important, much of the chatter leading up to the Red Bulls matchup with Chicago was about the return of fan favorite Dax McCarty. The former Red Bulls’ midfielder was controversially dealt to Chicago Jan. 16 and was playing at RBA for the first time since the trade.
McCarty was honored by the Red Bulls with a video tribute before the game and walked around the stadium after the match concluded and applauded the fans that had supported him during his 5 1/2 with organization.
“He looks strange in that jersey,” Robles said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it, but Dax was an incredible teammate. He’s a huge part of the history of this club. I hope when it’s all said and done not only the supporters, but the franchise remembers how important he was and what a great teammate.
“And what a great guy he was during his tenure here.”
McCarty recorded an assist on the Fire’s only goal of the night, sending the pass to Nikolic that created his scoring opportunity.
With McCarty’s return to New York behind them, along with their three-game homestand complete, the Red Bulls will now turn their attention to road matches against Kansas City and Philadelphia that come at them in rather quick succession.
New York faces Kansas City Wednesday before heading to Philly Saturday.
The Red Bulls were taking time to enjoy their win on Saturday night, but will shift focus to what’s ahead on Sunday.
“We’ll look at tonight’s match tomorrow,” Robles said. “We’ll recap, try to find how we can reconfigure, how we can continue to make those incremental improvements. Then on Monday it will be about recalibrating when it comes to the next opponent. Kansas City has had a great start to the season.”