Florian Valot celebrates his goal. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
ORLANDO — A 45-minute lightning delay and a superb performance by goalkeeper Brad Guzan could not stop the Red Bulls from walking off the field with a victory Saturday night.
It took but a goal by Florian Valot as the Red Bulls held on for a 1-0 win over Atlanta United at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in the MLS Is Back Tournament opener for both teams.
Red Bulls goalkeeper David Jensen produced some heroics himself, including a spectacular right-handed save on Adam Jahn’s close-range head in the seventh minute of second-half stoppage time. He leaped high to palm the ball out over the net for a corner kick.
The Red Bulls defense – backline and team – did well enough to hold Atlanta scoreless for the first time in 27 matches, going back to May 19, 2019. The win also continued the Red Bulls’ dominance over Atlanta with their sixth triumph in nine meetings since the Georgia-based team entered MLS in 2017.
The scheduled 8 p.m. ET opening kickoff was delayed by 45 minutes due lightning strikes in the area, and when the Red Bulls had an opportunity to strike early on, they took advantage of that chance.
New York played a spirited opening half, keen on the ball and seemingly one step ahead of Atlanta on many plays.
That type of inspiring playing led to the first goal in the fourth minute when Kaku’s pin-point pass found an open Valot in the middle. Valot, who had the past two seasons ruined by ACL injuries, ran in on net and beat Guzan from 15 yards, his first goal since 2018.
It turned out to be the first goal by any team in the first half in the competition as this was the fifth match.
Guzan came up big in the 25th minute, denying Daniel Royer, who had taken a long pass and fired a quick shot. The U.S. international made a reflex save with his left leg to deny the Austrian midfielder and a two-goal hole.
Atlanta finally put a shot on net in the 38th minute as Pity Martinez placed a mediocre attempt that keeper David Jensen had no trouble gathering in.
Only three minutes later, 18-year-old George Bello nearly equalized, as he slammed a shot off the crossbar.
Guzan came up big again in the 44th minute, denying Cristian Casseres Jr. from point-blank range on the right side of the area.
Martinez tried a free kick from outside the left side of the penalty area in the 56th minute, but his shot sailed straight to Jensen, who again had no problems catching it.
Only two minutes after replacing Kaku, Alex Muyl made his presence felt with a shot on goal, but Guzan was up to the task yet again, producing another kick save to keep his team within striking distance.
Valot could have had a brace and give New York some breathing room in the 63rd minute, but he powered his attempt over the crossbar.
Three minutes into stoppage, there was almost a near disaster for defender Tim Parker, who had come on for Royer in the 90th minute. His indecision allowed Jake Mulraney to take possession and fire a shot that Jensen stopped.
Midfielder Jared Stroud, who played with Red Bulls II last season, replaced Valot in the 70th minute and became the 354th player to play for the Red Bulls/MetroStars.
The Red Bulls next take on Columbus Crew SC here Thursday at 10:30 p.m. They finish the group stage against FC Cincinnati Wednesday, July 22 at 8 p.m.