New York Red Bulls Eliminated from MLS Cup Playoffs
Coming into Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinal finale, the New York Red Bulls trailed the Montréal Impact just by a goal. The goal, compared to New York City FC’s two goal deficit and FC Dallas’ three goal deficit, was surmountable. On the Red Bulls’ side was that they were returning home, where they’d never lost to Montréal. The deck was stacked comfortably for New York to make it to the next round, yet, they crumbled, being eliminated from the playoffs.
While the Impact went unchanged, the Red Bulls made two changes to their lineup, starting Gonzalo Verón and Sal Zizzo in place of Mike Grella and the injured Kemar Lawrence, respectively. Early on, New York were dictating the match, getting close to Montréal’s goal, while also keeping the opposition at bay. In the 20th minute, the Red Bulls were rewarded for their efforts, as referee Baldomero Toledo awarded the home team a penalty, which MVP candidate Sacha Kljestan lined up to take. It was the Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush, who had enjoyed a stellar first leg, who made the save, picking up from where he left off.
Despite that, the Red Bulls continued to challenge for the goal they needed to send the match to extra time, though in somewhat deflated fashion after Kljestan’s missed penalty. New York were dealt a blow when Kljestan received an elbow to the nose, which took almost 13 minutes to treat. Without the league’s leader in assists, the Red Bulls held their own, but did not manage a goal. The half ended 0-0, with all still to play for.
New York came into the second half with a huge burst of energy, staying active in Montréal’s defensive half. Nonetheless, it was the Impact’s Ignacio Piatti who scored six minutes into the second half, earning an away goal for the visitors. Instead of needing the one goal that would force extra time, New York now needed three goals in the next 39 minutes, now that extra time was out of the question.
The home team searched for an immediate response. The Red Bulls surged to the other end, creating opportunity after opportunity and taking shot after shot. Daniel Royer missed a tap in. Gonzalo Verón sent a ball into the side netting. Balls were flying around the goal. Any ball that was on frame was met by Bush.
Finally, in the 77th minute, fortune favored the Red Bulls. Royer found Bradley Wright-Phillips near the center of the penalty area. Easily, Wright-Phillips slotted home to cut the advantage. Two goals in 13 minutes was now the task for New York.
They tried. Again, they pressed for another goal. Yet, it was Montréal who took the final goal, as they performed another perfectly executed counter attack. The play ended with Didier Drogba, who had not played since the Impact’s 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena in September, finding Piatti yet again. With five minutes plus stoppage time left, it was game over for New York. It would be a 21st season without an MLS Cup.
Following the match, Montréal coach Mauro Biello sang the praises of Piatti and Bush, calling them “difference makers.” On Bush, he added “I was pretty happy when he made that save…I think it rallied the team after that.” On winning at Red Bull Arena for the first time, “It’s fantastic for my group, who now believes they can beat any team in the league.”
As for Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch, he was surprised by the result in some ways. “I feel like we dominated every single statistical category,” he said. “We dried up. I don’t know why, I don’t know how.”
The New York Red Bulls begin the 2017 season on Wednesday, February 22, hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
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