A hush had fallen among most of the 16,794 fans at Red Bull Arena on a humid Saturday night. Sporting Kansas City had just taken the lead 6 minutes into the second half and New York Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas had a decision to make.
Chris Armas gets it right
Armas had gone with the same lineup from the previous match up and it looked early on as if this was going to be what has become a typical easy-going win at home. Kaku played Bradley Wright-Phillips in and the striker expertly chipped SKC keeper Tim Melia, and VAR ruled him correctly onside. Four minutes in RBNY had the lead, only it wouldn’t last.
SKC responded immediately to tie it up and then started to gain control of the game, while RBNY looked like they were chasing it.
“We got stretched a bit and we were late to some plays.,” said RBNY coach Chris Armas in the post game press conference. “Obviously they are a good passing team, best in the league. Best at switching fields and if we are late to plays, it costs us a lot of running on a really hot and humid day. We had to address that at half time. But yeah, we had a lot of dirty running the first half.”
Halftime came and while the game was tied, Armas’ men looked tired and hadn’t played up to their standards.
“After their goal, which was kind of a bad goal to give away, we couldn’t (find) our way,” RBNY forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said after the match. “You know, we didn’t play well, we weren’t recovering well, the forwards included. It just didn’t look good.”
Then came the moment, Roger Espinoza’s shot had beaten Luis Robles and whatever foothold Red Bulls had in the game was gone. Unlike the previous game Armas didn’t hesitate to make a change. The RBNY manager called over Derrick Etienne Jr. and Marc Rzatkowski minutes later and began giving them instructions. Etienne came on for Alex Muyl, but the main question on everyone’s minds was who was Rzatkowski replacing? The board showed the numbers 10 and 90, it was Kaku.
Some questioned the decision of taking off the team’s difference maker for a player who hadn’t seen much time this year, but Armas was confident in his decision.
“We thought the game needed a different look in the middle of the field,” Armas said. “When you start to think about who to bring in and take out, you don’t have a lot of options. There’s one spot there. Marc had a great week of training. In every session, he brought energy and he always has quality, but he showed a lot of life this week. Going into the game, we thought that he would be a guy we’d rely on in some capacity.”
The game began to change in RBNY’s favor, Rzatkowski moved underneath Tyler Adams, who began to push more into the attacking role under Armas instructions.
“When Marc came in, Tyler pushed up and Marc slid underneath, that was the move,” Armas said. “Tyler is fearless up the field. When you look for a spark, he can do that. Sometimes it’s something against the ball or a turnover, and not just winning the ball, he can force turnovers.”
Armas had brought on Michael Murillo as his final sub, but it was Adams and Rzatkowski who brought the energy back into the side and the stadium when the combined on the tying goal.
“They know we like to play that low early ball,” midfielder Tyler Adams said. “A lot of the defenders we’re running first post so I tried to pick my head up and I saw Marc trailing at the top of the box he was about five yards behind the top of the box so I just knew if I could get out in front of him he’s going to have a hit. He does that in training all the time so there was no surprise to us and it’s nice to get him going.”
The game had completely flipped, RBNY had their confidence back and then Rzatkowski produced a moment of magic to give them the lead. Sean Davis found him in space with a nice pass, but give some credit to Etienne as well. His run took two defenders with him, including Graham Smith who had to worry about Rzatkowski playing Etienne in which gave him the space for the shot.
“I just wanted to help the team, wanted to improve the whole game from us,” Rzatkowski said. “And, it was not only me. I think also Derrick and Amir when they came in; we tried to give more spirit to the game and we are all happy that it was all going this way.”
This wasn’t just a win for Armas, it was his first win, a win against the team that defeated Red Bulls in the Open Cup final last year, a win at home in front of RBNY faithful. Most importantly it was a tactical win in which he pushed all the right buttons.
“In terms of the substitutions, tonight’s demands were different from last time and the next game will be different from this one,” Armas said. “As a staff, we’ll always look at. “what does the game need?” We’ll do our best to try to figure out what it needs and who it needs and when it is needed.”
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography