Omir Fernandez celebrates his first MLS goal. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)
CINCINNATI — Second-half substitutes Kaku and Omir Fernandez scored late goals and Luis Robles was masterful in the net as the Red Bulls registered a 2-0 victory over struggling FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium Saturday night.
The result boosted the Red Bulls over the .500 mark at 6-5-3, good for third place in the Eastern Conference. The reeling Cincy expansion side, which fired head coach Alan Koch earlier this month, fell to 3-9-2 as it sits in last place in the conference with 11 points.
“That locker room is really energized right now,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said. “I think part of it is that we win on the road. Part of it is that we continue the momentum. Part of it is that there are a lot of different players contributing. Part of it the guys feel like they are growing in all these moments.”
It certainly didn’t hurt that second-half subs made a major impact.
“Listen, if you can pull the right strings at times and maybe you can benefit,” Armas said. As the staff, we are watching. We know what we are looking at but when we bring in Kaku, for sure. He plays two of the three games this week. We wanted to manage him the right way going into the match. We thought we would get him involved in some way. Omir Fernandez was the third sub. So, we had to be mindful of not to burn it too early, but we know in the final third he is so clever.
“They’re [FC Cincy] grinding for results. It is going to be difficult. It’s hot. It’s turf. It’s aerial duels all night. They showed up with courage, our guys. The reserves come in, do their part, it is a total team effort. So, it is great to see these guys rewarded.”
And with that, the team is gaining momentum.
“We’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in anything that comes,” he said.
Robles was outstanding as he recorded his 66th shutout, eighth most in MLS history.
He was credited with four saves, including some beauties before a crowd of 28,290. He made a nice kick save on Fanendo Adi in the seventh minute and produced a fingertip save on Frankie Amaya for a corner kick in the 12th minute.
“Well, I just said to him on my way out of the locker room, another night where you just you come up big, you stand tall,” Armas said. “The way we play, we get beat at moments behind and he seems to be in the right spots right now and he was locked in. So, to see him make some big saves, it’s a game changer for sure. It’s another game that he has won it for us.”
But the veteran goalkeeper saved his best for the 40th minute as Robles slapped away Adi’s point-blank headed with his right hand for yet another corner kick.
Kaku, who replaced Cristian Cásseres Jr. in the 59th made, took advantage of a major gaffe by Mathieu Deplagne in the 78th minute, embarrassing the defender. The Paraguyan international stripped Deplagne of the ball and went in alone on goalkeeper Spencer Richey and slotted the ball home for the first goal in the 78th minute.
Since he played in the 2-2 home draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps Wednesday night, Kaku started the game on the bench.
“You always have to be vigilant,” he said. “You have to be ready for when you it is your time to go in. You don’t know if you can change the rhythm of a game. So, I am happy because the two of us came in we were able to do it very well.”
Fernandez, who came on for Andreas Ivan in the 79th minute, put the icing on the cake a minute into stoppage time. He headed in a right-wing cross by Brian White, after a nice set-up by right back Michael Amir Murillo, from about 12 yards for his first MLS goal.
“You know, as a sub you’re always trying to make an impact,” Fernandez said. “You’re trying to help the team win and to add that extra goal in those dying moments where we needed it the most. You know, it’s a great feeling. I feel like it would’ve been better at home with our fans to celebrate, but away will have to do. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”