When Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo both left the Red Bulls for Anderlecht this summer, the team lost two of the finest fullbacks in MLS.
Maybe Kyle Duncan is of the same ilk.
The right back was superb against FC Cincinnati on Sunday, playing a hand in all three goals en route to a 3-2 win over the expansion club. Duncan scored the first, won a vital header to help set up the second and assisted Daniel Royer with an incisive pass in the 70th minute for the last.
The Red Bulls were fine on offense last year. They scored the 10th-most goals (56) out of 24 teams and their 40 open-play goals ranked seventh, per WhoScored. But the team failed to score a single goal from a counter attack and got just one goal and three assists from Murillo, its primary right back.
The addition of another creative outlet like Duncan to the lineup — if he can maintain this level of play — could elevate the Red Bulls’ ceiling. The team mostly attacks by overwhelming its opponents by pressing, but often runs into trouble against sides who defend deep.
If Duncan can improve on his poor passing from last season (he completed just 65.2 percent of them), the Red Bulls will have more of a contingency plan against conservative teams.
The Red Bulls would probably do well to make the Eastern Conference playoffs this season. That ceiling will move if Duncan’s season debut proves to be a harbinger and not a fluke.
Red card mars NYCFC opener, with an assist from VAR
There was not a ton to learn from NYCFC’s first match.
The club’s domestic season got off to a horrific start on Sunday when Maxime Chanot was sent off just three minutes into the game. From there, New York City battled the Columbus Crew, but it was unsurprisingly outshot (14-7) and out-possessed (62.3 percent to 37.7). They lost the match 1-0.
Playing with 10 men won’t be a constant in NYCFC’s season but VAR will be, and its packaging throughout MLS and elsewhere in soccer is increasingly frustrating.
Chanot was sent off for making very slight, possibly incidental contact with the Crew’s Lucas Zelarayán, who was latching on to a through ball toward goal with the NYCFC defender behind him. FIFA’s rules state that if Chanot denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity he should be sent off. That’s fine, even if the red looked a bit harsh and Zelarayán seemingly tripped over himself at one point.
What isn’t fine is pretending that every call is obvious and clear-cut — a notion that VAR perpetuates when vague messages like “GOAL” or “NO GOAL” are simply plastered on big screens and every call that sticks is “confirmed.”
NFL fans know all too well the difference between a decision being “confirmed” and a call merely “standing,” which is an admission by the officials that there is simply not enough evidence to overturn a call, rather than corroborating its validity.
Soccer could do with the same thinking, especially when there are controversial decisions nearly every game. You can’t — and won’t — please everyone, but most fans would rather accept an admission that a call is tight (when appropriate) than being told that they’re patently wrong.
As in the NFL, some calls are in fact obvious enough to be confirmed. But the ones that aren’t ought to use different language, and Chanot’s red card proves just that.