The first New York derby of 2019 started out as the intense, back-and-forth affair we've come to expect when the New York Red Bulls and New York City FCsquare off, but it wasn't someone in red or blue who ultimately turned the tide of Sunday's derby clash.
It was, instead, the men in yellow, who combined to make a head-scratching decision that left one team fuming and another team celebrating on their way to a controversial derby day victory.
The New York Red Bulls overcame an early New York City FC goal with an equalizer just before halftime, but it was their go-ahead goal that left NYCFC fuming. After a ball went out for what assistant referee Corey Rockwell clearly signaled as a corner kick, the Red Bulls proceeded to execute a throw-in that eventually led to a Daniel Royer header goal in the 60th minute, a goal that wound up standing as the game-winner in a 2-1 victory after referee Alan Kelly determined that the goal would stand, ignoring angry and lengthy protests from NYCFC players.
"I said 'You made a mistake, and you know that'," said NYCFC coach Dome Torrent, who had to be restrained by his own players on two separate occasions after trying to confront Kelly after the match. "He decided the game. I said to him 'You decided the game and you know that. You decided the game. You are not brave, you decided the game.'
"What is the reason why? Maybe he made a mistake, and it's not a corner. I accept that. But when you say corner, two, three seconds and tell my player it's a corner, it's a mistake."
A review of replays of the incident appear to show Rockwell clearly signal for a corner kick, and also inform NYCFC defender Alex Callens that the play is a corner kick, but nowhere on replays does Kelly make any visible signal for a throw-in. The Red Bulls worked quickly to throw the ball-in and serve a cross in to Royer for the winning header, with Callens caught out of position as he jogged back, unaware a throw-in had taken place.
"Today, I'm so sorry for the soccer because it's not fair what happened in this game," Torrent said. "I don't like to talk about the referees, but it's impossible not to talk about the referees tonight. Everybody knows what happened. If you have a doubt, you can watch the TV. It's clear.
"What happened after that maybe is our mistake, but it's not easy when they say corner because you are ready for the corner and not the throw-in."
Responding to written questions from the media after the match, Kelly stated that he overruled the initial call for a corner kick, and claimed to verbally announce that a throw-in was awarded. Kelly also noted that throw-ins and corner kick decisions are not reviewable by VAR.
Though NYCFC still had 30 minutes to try and find an equalizer — along with a full nine minutes of stoppage time — the visitors were unable to recapture the momentum they enjoyed in the first half, when they scored just seven minutes into the match on a finish by Heber, and put the Red Bulls under pressure with several more quality scoring chances, though they were unable to find a second goal, which wound up costing them.
The Red Bulls had already begun to swing the momentum in their favor well before the botched corner kick/throw-in call, beginning with a goal just before halftime on a penalty kick. The second half saw the Red Bulls show more energy as NYCFC began to tire, which shouldn't have come as a surprise considering the Red Bulls were coming off a full week of rest while NYCFC was coming off having played a midweek U.S. Open Cup match against Orlando City that also included some travel difficulties that made the trip even more taxing.
The Red Bulls weren't about to feel sorry for NYCFC, and ultimately capitalized on the botched corner kick/throw-in fiasco, outplaying a clearly distracted and tiring NYCFC side that didn't have anywhere near the same energy and attacking threat it showed in the first half.
NYCFC will have to until August 24 to exact some revenge. The Red Bulls will travel to Yankee Stadium on that day for the second derby battle of the year.
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