Sean Johnson has allowed the ball get past him to set up a controversial goal decision. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The goal in front of the South Ward at Red Bull Arena has not been very good to New York City FC in Hudson River Derby matches the past 13 months.

On July 14, 2019, a miscommunication from the assistant referee led to the deciding goal for the Red Bulls in what turned into a 2-1 victory.

On Thursday night, a howler by goalkeeper Sean Johnson, coupled with a controversial decision, saw City drop a 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J.

“It is kind of a similar sort of thing to last year,” center back James Sands said.

The result left a reeling NYCFC side (1-5-0, 3 points) in 13th place out of 14 teams in the MLS Eastern Conference.

“I’m very disappointed in the second half,” NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila said, “especially the first 15 minutes. We agreed we would attack the space in behind more. We agreed to be more intense in our pressure and we started on the back foot and never got into it. It’s almost like you deserve it.”

The game’s turning point came in the 59th minute.

Red Bulls right back Kyle Duncan fired a 22-yard shot that Johnson allowed to go through his hands. As the ball fell toward the goal line, Johnson scrambled and managed to keep the ball from going over the line. Or so he thought.

Referee Allen Chapman used VAR to determine that the ball had crossed the line and Duncan and the Red Bulls were awarded the goal.

During a postgame Zoom press conference with the media, Deila said his staff had seen a replay and the ball wasn’t totally over the line.

“So, for me, if that’s happening then I can’t understand that’s possible,” he said. “You have to be sure that that that ball is inside. I saw it on the line. But maybe [the game officials] have an angle the others don’t have. If that ball is not in, then when you have all the equipment we have now, then it’s unbelievable.”

Deila said he hadn’t spoken to Johnson, but he defended his goalkeeper, pointing out that he made several vital saves to keep NYCFC in the match.

“Sean is a great goalkeeper,” he said. Everybody [makes] mistakes. If it gets a goal, it’s not so correct on that. It’s going be a bad, bad thing for the game. I trust Sean. Every goalkeeper has some things. He had a fantastic save in the first half and a great save when it was 1-0. So, mistakes happen. It’s how we bounce back from it and I know we’re going to do that.”

From his angle on the play, Sands felt the ball was not wholly over the goal line.

“If he [the referee] goes to a video review it has to be clear that it was over the line,” he said. “It didn’t seem like that from where I was. Sean saved us three or four times, so I think there’s bigger things that we have to address.”

NYCFC never was the same after that goal. In fact, Delia felt the goal changed the team’s attitude.

“Goals change games all the time, especially when you aren’t in a good mood when you’ve had some bad results over you,” he said. “It’s not a quick solution. Everybody, including myself, has to really dig deep and find the strength and belief and power that makes you come onto the pitch and bounce back. That’s what we’re going to do on Monday.”

That’s when NYCFC hosts Columbus Crew SC at RBA.

“We just have to find that extra 10 percent and Ronny talked to us a bit after the game about that,” Sands said. “It’s not like we’re playing badly. We’re not getting blown out 3-0 or 4-0. We just got to focus on the little things a little bit more and thats a good place to start for our team.”