HARRISON, NEW JERSEY - MARCH 01: Marc Rzatkowski #90 of New York Red Bulls takes the ball in the second half against the FC Cincinnati at Red Bull Arena on March 01, 2020 in Harrison, New Jersey.
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The New York Red Bulls ousted F.C. Cincinnati 3-2 in their season opener. Here are three takeaways from the game.

Onz Chery

One half, they looked like the 2018 MLS Supporters’ Shield champions. The other half, they looked like the 2019 team that made the playoffs by six points. The New York Red Bulls started their MLS opener on a bipolar note as they often did last season, but they indeed left the Red Bull Arena with a win, edging F.C. Cincinnati 3-2.

Kyle Duncan netted the opener in the 16th minute before Alejandro “Kaku” Romero and Daniel Royer additionally put themselves on the scoresheet in the 27th and 70th minute, respectively. FCC cut the lead back to one in the 46th minute and then again in the 83rd minute.

On a bit of a concerning note, Kaku left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. It appears to be a minor setback though.

All in all, there were many ups and downs in the Red Bulls’ first MLS game of 2020. But the following three discussion points loom larger than anything.

1. RBNY players do have it in them, but can they remain consistent in games?

New York looked like their old self in the first half. The players pressed as if their lives depended on it, they looked coherent when they attacked their opponents, and their defense seemed organized.

It showed on the scoreline. In less than 30 minutes on the clock, The Metros were up 2-0. FCC’s players couldn’t escape their own half. When they did, Tim Parker and Amro Tarek dispossessed them in a quick and ferocious manner.

The fans were behind the Red Bulls players with roars and motivating chants. It felt like 2018.

FCC isn’t the toughest opponent, but RBNY proved that they can still perform like they used to when they won three Supporters’ Shields.

Nonetheless, they only did so in the first half and for a few spells in the second period. Consistency in games was one of the team’s problems last season, and it was an issue again in the opening stage of this campaign.

2. Positioning at the back is crucial in a pressing system

New York’s alluring pressing system came back to haunt them just seconds into the second half. The center backs are in a very vulnerable position in this system and that was shown on Sunday.

In the 46th minute, Duncan wasn’t on the right wing as the Red Bulls were pressing. Instead, he was in a central position at midfield.

The ball was played on the Red Bulls’ right flank. Parker sidestepped there to try to cover the empty space Duncan left behind. But he didn’t check over his shoulder to see a moving Cincinnati player in Brandon Vazquez.

The 21-year-old Vazquez bolted to a through ball, as it became almost impossible for Parker to catch up to him. Parker didn’t even attempt to run after Vazquez because Tarek, who also left his position, was already running towards him in the box.

Instead of sprinting to the center of the box to cover Tarek’s position, Parker jogged. Perhaps, the New York native was out of breath from running to the right flank for Duncan.

Vazquez squared the ball to Allan Cruz. Red Bulls rookie left back Patrick Seagrist paced back toward Cruz after pressing but arrived too late. Cruz scored to give Cincinnati its inaugural goal of the season.

Parker and Duncan both played well, but their mistakes cost the Red Bulls their first allowed goal of 2020.

Positioning was yet again one of the reasons why New York conceded its second goal.

Off-the-ball, Tarek allowed Jürgen Locadia to run behind him at midfield. After Parker failed an interception attempt, Locadia ran to the ball and finished a one-on-one opportunity versus new RBNY keeper David Jensen.

Of course, Parker should’ve made contact with the loose ball. Jensen could’ve saved the shot, but Tarek is at equal fault for letting Locadia move behind him. That was uncharacteristic from the former Orlando City SC player. He often stays behind his opponents and makes contact with the ball. He even did so in the first half.

3. Injury survivors Kyle Duncan and Florian Valot could have a phenomenal season ahead of them

It wasn’t hard to tell which two Red Bulls players performed the best in this match. Duncan notched a goal and an assist while Florian Valot recorded a pair of assists.

After a promising start with the club, both players suffered season-ending injuries at some point in the last two years. Duncan was out for 325 days after picking up an ACL injury in April 2018.

The Brooklyn-born returned in February of last year and played 13 games but wasn’t at his best.

Despite being out of position on the first goal, Duncan impressed on both ends of the field against FCC. He made major key interceptions, one of which led to the second goal.

If the 22-year-old can stay carry on this type of strong performance he’ll restore the promising career he started with before his 2018 injury.

Valot’s last two seasons also ended with knee injuries. He earned man of the match honors on Sunday after his two assists. Perhaps, the story that just kept experiencing injury-related interruptions will finally be written without any abrupt pauses.

Originally from Haiti, Ralph 'Onz' Chery started his writing career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League and other local leagues. After graduating, Onz started covering the New York Red Bulls for ESNY and joined Haitian Times.