Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence (left) has some words with NYCFC captain David Villa (Brad Penner – USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX — The scoreboard, they say, doesn’t lie.
But it sometimes doesn’t tell the entire story, certainly not what transpired in New York City FC’s 1-1 tie with the Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night.
It doesn’t say how bravely City played with great intensity that we haven’t seen in recent matches, despite being two men down, in the latter stages of the Hudson River Derby confrontation.
It also doesn’t say how the Red Bulls squandered a potential road win playing two men up. A victory would have propelled them into a first-place tie with Atlanta United on points and would have severely hurt NYCFC’s chances to secure the Supporters Shield.
Translated: the draw felt like a win for NYCFC and a loss for the Red Bulls.
“Today we’re very happy with the result because you know what happens when you play against this team,” City head coach Domenec Torrent said. “They’re a tough team, Red Bulls. And especially in the second half, we played with nine against 11. And I want to thank my players for their effort. I’m very proud of them. In the end, we played 11 v 11 because we had two more in the stands. Our fans were amazing and I say it many times. When we have our fans, like today, like every single day, we can win the game even when we play with nine players.”
Incredibly, even though his team enjoyed an extra player for 32 minutes and a two-man advantage for the final 18 minutes of regulation, plus nine minutes — yes, nine minutes of stoppage time — Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas walked out of the stadium pleased.
“We’re not going to get emotional about this,” he said. “We went to Vancouver, got a point. We came to New York City where they haven’t lost and got a point. When things were level, we thought we were the better team. That’s that. One point on the road, tough place to play, a derby match, which they’re always interesting. And then there’s the other side, we’re up two guys and couldn’t get the game winner so there will be some initial frustration but short lived and on to the next one Sunday.”
That will be at Red Bull Arena against Wayne Rooney and company with D.C. United.
At least two Red Bulls had their minds grounded in reality — striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, whose 37th-minute header lifted his side into a 1-0 lead, and goalkeeper Luis Robles.
“I don’t know if there is a positive,” BWP said. “They got down to nine men at the end and they looked better than us somehow. First off we were good. We controlled the game we were the better team. They go down two men and it all changes. I don’t get it. Was not good enough.”
Robles, the team captain, left scratching his head as well as the derby turned out to be a game of two halves.
“I think that’s part of the frustration” he said. “When it was 11 vs 11 we were the better team. We put them off the pitch. Yet they go down a man and I don’t know if it was complacency, I don’t know if it was anxiety. I don’t know what it was but I definitely did not make matters any easier when I give up a goal like that.”
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was amazed and proud of NYCFC’s performance at the same time.
“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “It kind of symbolizes our season at that. Even down two men, every guy on the pitch was still pushing through. On a game like that, we understood what it meant and everybody’s just hungry to win. Whether it’s nine men, we could have played the game with seven, it didn’t matter how many men we had out there, we still would have pressed on to try and win the game.”
It is obviously too early to tell, but it will be interesting to look back at the third and final derby encounter of the regular season and see if and how it affected both squad’s stretch run.
Who knows? The game could wind up defining each team’s season.
If NYCFC, which gets a much needed 10 days off until its road game at Columbus Crew SC Sept. 1, finishes above the Red Bulls or even beats out Atlanta United for the Eastern Conference crown and Supporters Shield, it will be considered a huge turning point.
“We showed character today, in a derby where it counts,” midfielder Alex Ring said. “I’m proud of the team. We showed discipline today. We showed our true side today, the one we’ve had most of the season. Maybe we lost our intensity a few games back, but we showed up today.”
If the Red Bulls, who are in the midst of trying to survive a five-game in 15-day stretch, underachieve in key games over the next eight weeks, it will be considered a downer of a turning point.
“Everyone was waiting around for someone else to do something,” Wright-Phillips said.
Added midfielder Sean Davis: “For them to go down to 9 men and for us not to find the winner is disappointing for sure, but there is lessons to take from this game and in the long run it’ll be worthwhile for us.”
Only time will tell.