HARRISON, N.J. — Kaku struck in the first half and Brian White and Danny Royer added goals in the second half to help lead the New York Red Bulls to a fortunate 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire Friday night at Red Bull Arena.
In their first game back from the Gold Cup break, the Red Bulls picked up their fifth win in the last seven games and moved into fourth place in the Eastern Conference, while the Fire extended a winless streak to six games, squandering a chance to move above the playoff line in the East.
That the win came after back-to-back defeats where the Red Bulls coughed up leads and conceded late was huge.
“Coming off the Philadelphia game we’re up 2-0, that one hurts. New England, we should have put that one away. That one hurt,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “That’s not easy to rebound from. … It’s important to win games like that.
“Good teams win games like that and I think we’re a good team.”
While the Fire (4-7-7, 19 points) had the better of play through much of the first half, Red Bulls (8-6-3, 27 points) had the lead thanks to a blunder by goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm in the 8th minute.
Kronholm received a return pass from Bastian Schweinsteiger, but his heavy first touch went directly to Kaku, who was pressing high. The Paraguayan international took a touch to elude Kronholm and then tapped into the open net to extend his points streak to five consecutive games.
Katai, who was soundly booed on every touch following a tussle with Kyle Duncan, played a quality service into the box where former Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty put his glancing header just wide.
Four minutes later, Katai put a 28-yard free kick over the Red Bulls wall and just wide. In the 32nd minute, a sliding CJ Sapong couldn’t connect on a back-post cross by Przemyslaw Frankowski after Nico Gaitan had a shot blocked by Amro Tarek in front of goal.
In the 40th minute, Katai took a feed from Gaitan, but put his shot off the far post.
Jun 28, 2019; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls midfielder Alejandro Romero Gamarra (10) scores a goal against Chicago Fire goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm (27) during the first half at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
It was more of the same after halftime as Katai slipped through the defense and his shot directed toward the far post was parried away with the outside of Robles’ right hand for a Fire corner kick.
Sapong then put a close-range shot on frame, but was also denied by Robles, who also got the better of Frankowski moments later as part of a seven-save performance.
“They create some good chances and Luis Robles came up big on a bunch of occasions,” Armas said. “I’ve said it before, doe he gets the credit he deserves, whether it’s all-star nominations and nods. Every year he seems to just be so constant and steady. On a night like tonight he keeps us in it.”
Against the run of play, the Red Bulls tacked onto their lead in the 59th minute. On a well-worked counterattack, White played Royer out wide and Royer returned the favor. He slipped a pass just outside the six-yard box where a sliding White split a pair of Fire defenders and scored his fourth goal of the season.
“The ball rolled out around half field and I tried to win the tackle and then we started playing up the field,” White said. “The ball played to Alex, rolled out to me and I played it to Danny, I tried to get in the box. He played the ball in and I just tried to get on the end of it.”
Five minutes later Royer nearly had a goal of his own, played behind the Chicago defense by an inch-perfect Kaku clipped pass. But Kronholm came off his line well and made the save.
Bradley Wright-Phillips made his first appearance in more than two months, coming off the bench in the 67th minute for White. The two-time Golden Boot Award winner has been sidelined with a groin injury.
“Tired. I feel like I need to go to sleep,” Wright-Phillips said when asked how he felt after his shift. “That’s just the truth, but I’m just happy. I’ve been in the gym for ages working with the trainers and fitness coaches. It’s been tough, it’s horrible, but now I’m back, I just need to try and stay fit and just help out the team.”
The Fire had a late lifeline when Nemanja Nikolic directed in the rebound of a Katai shot off the crossbar to pull the visitors to within a goal in the 81st minute.
Any thoughts of a third straight blown two-goal lead though were dashed in second-half stoppage time when Royer got on the end of a Duncan cross and knocked in at the back post with Chicago’s numbers pushed forward for an equalizer. Wright-Phillips started the sequence with a ball down the line to Duncan.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but I’ve seen there’s times before where a team would score, we’re at home and we start getting a bit nervous,” Wright-Phillips said. “But we stuck to our jobs and we get a nice goal at the end. Great ball from Kyle Duncan, and a good finish by Danny. I was just trying to help out. Honestly, that was my last bit of energy. That pass down the line, the game could have finished after that. I was done.”