Sean Nealis was called for a handball, which gave Orlando City a penalty kick and the lone goal of the match. (USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
A controversial penalty kick helped submarine the Red Bulls in their MLS season opener against Orlando City SC on Saturday night.
A handball in the box by captain Sean Nealis led to Facundo Torres’s 56th-minute penalty kick, which gave the Lions a 1-0 victory in front of an Exploria Stadium crowd of 24,088.
Red Bulls head coach Gerard Struber claimed a PK should not have been awarded by referee Guido Gonzales, Jr. Torres slotted his PK past goalkeeper Carlos Coronel.
“In the end, a wrong decision decided [the game],” Struber said. “This makes me very, very unhappy. … This is very painful.”
According to Struber, when the ball hits a players’ chest and then his arm, a handball should not be called.
“My understanding is when the ball goes on the chest after death on the hand, the rule is very clear,” he said. “In every education what we have with the referees, they always told us that it’s not the hand and today we have exactly the situation. The Video Assistant [Referee] was, I don’t know what what he think, but would be very interesting.”
When asked if he thought the hand ball was warranted, Red Bulls midfielder Lewis Morgan replied, “We had enough chances over the course of the game, regardess of the penalty.”
The Red Bulls might not like playing in Orlando. Last year they were eliminated by the central Florida team via an embarrassing 5-1 defeat in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
A scoreless first half was highlighted by multiple chances for the visitors, in addition to solid defense across the board.
In fact, the Red Bulls outshot Orlando, 7-0, in the opening half. For the game, the visitors dominated the shot totals, 14-6.
“I cannot remember so many chances what they have,” said Struber, who added that the hosts had their chances off set pieces such as corner and free kicks, and not from the flow of play. From the open game they have nothing. This was, of course, our big plan. We let high-quality players not to come in a game with fun. I think we crushed.”
Well, at least defensively.
Remember, goals, and not shots, decide games and New York could not find the equalizer.
“I think over the whole game game, we were not sexy enough in front of the goal,” Struber said.
“We have three highlight chances and in the end I think this is what make us today very disappointed.”
Midfielder Christian Cásseres Jr. made his 100th appearance in MLS.
Cory Burke made hisRed Bulls debut after coming on in the 68th minute. Peter Stroud also made his first appearance for the club when he was subbed on in the 79th minute.
The Red Bulls will host Nashville SC, 2-0 home winners over New York City FC on Saturday night, in their home opener at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m.