Even when he was on the ground, Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles was still at the top of his game. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — All things considered, the Red Bulls did alright in their season opener Saturday.
Due to their international commitments, they deployed a B team and walked out of MAPFRE Stadium with a precious road point after a 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew SC.
Goalkeeper Luis Robles turned into the late-match hero for the Red Bulls. He denied a streaking Harrison Awful, parrying the ball away two minutes into stoppage time before thwarting Gyasi Zardes from point-blank range only seconds later.
Crew SC keeper Zack Steffen performed some 11th-hour heroics himself, stopping Andreas Ivan on a rebound of his free kick six minutes into injury time.
Because the Red Bulls have a Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal game against Santos Laguna Tuesday night, head coach Chris Armas decided to rest most of his starters. In fact, he inserted only three regulars into the Starting XI — goalkeeper Luis Robles, center back Aaron Long and right back Michael Murillo.
Murillo, whose second CCL yellow card means that he will sit out the first leg vs. Santos, started at right back Saturday. Kyle Duncan, who is expected to start in the Panamanian international’s place Tuesday, began at left back.
Video courtesy of the Red Bulls Facebook page
Striker Bradley Wright-Phillips was given the day off as he stayed in New Jersey.
Despite playing many reserves, the Red Bulls found a way to strike first and early.
In a goal that evoked memories of the 2018 home opener against the Portland Timbers, Ivan headed home a right-wing feed from Florian Valot past goalkeeper Zack Steffen in the sixth minute. Last year, Ben Mines tallied in the opening minutes in what turned into a 4-0 rout for the Red Bulls on March 10, 2018.
It also turned out to be Ivan’s second goal in only 29 minutes of play. As a substitute in the 3-0 CCL win over Atletico Pantoja Wednesday night, he struck in the 75th minute, only eight minutes after coming on for BWP.
As time was running out in the first half, Murillo was involved in Columbus’ first-half goal as Gastón Sauro got some room on him and was credited with a header off a Federico Higuaín corner kick, although the ball appeared to have gone off the Central American.
Crew SC dominated the opening half, as evidenced by its corner kick superiority (eight to three). That forced Robles to have a relatively busy 45 minutes.
The Red Bulls appeared to have taken the lead in the 75th minute, but Ivan was called offside after depositing the ball into the net.
Referee Ted Unkel certainly had a busy day during a physical game, yellow carding five players, three on Columbus.