Red Bulls outlast NYCFC behind Fernandez’s penalty, advance to Leagues Cup Round of 16

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Omir Fernandez Red Bulls
Omir Fernandez (Photo courtesy of the New York Red Bulls)

HARRISON, N.J. — Omir Fernandez has a knack for striking down New York City FC.

A 31st-minute penalty from the midfielder was good enough for the New York Red Bulls to clinch a 1-0 victory in the first-ever Leagues Cup edition of the Hudson River Derby over NYCFC while punching the club’s ticket to the competition’s Round of 16.

It’s the second game-winning goal in as many New York derbies for Fernandez, a Bronx native, who scored the game-winner against NYCFC in MLS action on May 13.

The victors of the chippy rivalry match, who improve to 2-0 on the season against NYCFC, will play the Philadelphia Union in Philly on Monday in the Round of 16 match. 

Luquinhas, whose elusiveness left NYCFC chasing shadows throughout the midfield all night, set up the Red Bulls’ opener when he was pulled down at the top of the box by Travon Gray in the 28th minute — a yellow-card offense that was deemed a penalty. 

“We want to get him the ball as much as possible,” Lesesne said of Luquinhas. “When he starts to beat the first defender and then he starts to come inside and get confident in the game, this is what I love to see. I’m looking at someone who loves to be in those moments and I was really happy to see him make such an impact on the game.”

Up stepped Fernandez, who after taking a large sidestep to his left to get on the right foot, shuffled his feet with vigor as he approached the spot and tucked his chance just inside the right post to give the hosts the lead.

“That’s a big moment for Omir,” Lesesne said. “He’s had so many big moments for us this year, he’s had so many big moments in derbies. This is impressive for him.”

The Red Bulls bossed most of possession to keep NYCFC on the back foot, including late first-half chances from Cameron Harper and Luquinhas that were saved easily by Matt Freece. The domineers had another reason to shout for a penalty when Dante Vanzeir was pulled down by his collar in the box by Andres Jasson, but it was deemed not egregious enough for the official’s whistle.

Seconds later, emotions that are customary with this rivalry flared when Fernandez and Keaton Parks exchanged pleasantries in the midfield. 

“We know the nature of this game and there’s two ways we can play it,” NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing began. “We can control the chaos without play or we can join it and fight. I didn’t think we did either.”

Into the second half, Luquinhas continued to prove elusive — and the Red Bulls were left pleading with the officiating for another penalty. The Brazilian midfielder was taken down yet again in the box by a sweeping leg from an NYCFC defender in the 57th minute but no call was made, sending the Red Bulls bench into a frenzy.

And just as they did late in the first half after a questionable non-call, Parks and Fernandez tangled up again. This time, however, they were both issued yellows. 

Off a Daniel Edelman turnover, new NYCFC signing Mounsef Bakrar was played with acres of space down the left wing, but after a bounding run into the box, his shot floated right to the arms of Red Bulls keeper Carlos Coronel.

Luquinhas went down in the box a third time in the 75th minute but was given a yellow for simulation much to his bewilderment.

Coronel had to come up with his largest save of the night in the 77th minute when he fought away a point-blank chance from a streaking Gray down the left wing. The ensuing rebound came to James Sands, but the midfielder’s attempt was blocked. 

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