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Luis Robles: ‘Mentality was not there’ in New York Red Bulls loss to Orlando City

Mar 23, 2019; Harrison, NJ, USA; Orlando City SC defender Carlos Ascues (26) heads the ball against New York Red Bulls defender Kyle Duncan (6) during the second half at Red Bull Arena. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

HARRISON, N.J. — There are more intricate details about their style and tactics, but the New York Red Bulls success can often be boiled down to a few factors — winning second balls, being more aggressive and energetic.

Grit, desire, effort.

On Saturday night, one team played Red Bulls soccer and it wasn’t the Red Bulls.

Orlando City SC were the hungrier team and the squad that won more duels. And they did it at Red Bull Arena, where the Red Bulls hadn’t lost a regular season match since late July.

That is until Saturday night when former Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan scored the lone goal to lift the Lions to a 1-0 victory, their first of the season.

“We didn’t win enough second balls and those hustle plays, they got the better part of us,” red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “And, of course, tactics are one thing, but for me, not necessarily being a tactician and more of a guy that looks for guys to fight, especially at home, and someone that’s willing to put it on the line. To me those are very important for us to be successful. We had a couple of those moments, but not enough to be the winners today.”

Duels won is a statistic that the Red Bulls rarely are second best in, but that was the case Saturday with Orlando winning 52.9 percent, although at first glance it seemed much higher.

“I think it’s frustrating because we knew how Orlando was gonna play, we knew they were just going to kind of come out and kick the ball long and kind of force us to head the ball up the field or they were going to try and win the second-ball battle,” Red Bulls defender Tim Parker said. “And we usually pride ourselves on that so it’s frustrating that they kind of won that battle.”

Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said there’s a lot that goes into winning second balls, but ultimately it comes down to a mentality, which was lacking on the night for his team.

“It’s really a mentality sometimes, to really sniff a play out, think about where it’s going to go, get an early read and just commit yourself physically, mentally, with everything, that’s an important piece of it,” he said. “We thought we let ourselves down with that.”

And while the Red Bulls want to always play fast, the Lions did well to slow the game down, reducing it to a choppy affair. Orlando had just 354 passes and completed 58.2 percent of those passes. The Red Bulls at 426 total passes and 61.3 passing accuracy weren’t much better.

“There was no fluidity to the game,” Parker said. “That kind of also led to our frustration. We wanted to try to find moments that we could play and every time it kind of got broken up or slowed down in some way.”

For fans of both teams, the lasting moment surely was seeing Kljestan, the former Red Bulls captain and key playmaker, scoring the game’s lone goal in the 73rd minute. It was his first goal of the year, a quality low first-time finish off a Joao Moutinho cross.

Kljestan and Robles are close, former teammates and roommates. Robles said the fact Kljestan scored isn’t what hurts the most, but rather the way his team played provided the biggest sting.

“What I’m going to remember the most about this game isn’t that Sacha is one that scored the goal, it’s that maybe as a leader, I didn’t do enough to prep my guys, that maybe as a voice in this locker room, I didn’t get the guys going,” Robles said. “Because what we put on display today is not the brand of soccer that we want to play. And the mentality was not there today.”

Where do the Red Bulls go from here? There’s certainly no panic in the locker room, no reason to do a deep dive into tactics and such.

“Coming out of this game there’s no real concerns,” Armas said. “We know in different stretches this year we’ve played really well. And we’ve had some stretches where we haven’t played that great. Today, as a whole, we couldn’t get a real grasp on it.”

The Red Bulls are too good to think the loss is anything but an aberration. Proof, though, comes in the games ahead — at Chicago and home for Minnesota United.

Six points should be what’s expected, as long as there isn’t a repeat of Saturday’s performance.

“It can’t be a theme that reoccurs. It has to be a one off,” Robles warned. “And I’m confident when we go into this next week, we’re going to address it because it has to be addressed in order for this team to be successful. It goes with philosophy, it goes with tactics, but it also goes with mentality and that mentality piece wasn’t there today.”

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