Red Bulls ride huge win over Crew to advance to conference final
At the end of the game in Columbus, Ohio, the fate of the New York Red Bulls seemed all too familiar.
After tallying the highest point total and winning the Supporters’ Shield, the Red Bulls lost away at MAPFRE Stadium in the first leg of the Eastern semifinal again.
Although it was a smaller margin and at a different stage of the playoffs, they still — like three years ago — did not get an away goal and, more importantly, looked stiff in their movements.
On Nov. 11, the Red Bulls were finally able to overturn a first leg deficit in a playoff series and won 3-0 against the Columbus Crew at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
They would advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and face off against the Atlanta United FC after the international break.
The Red Bulls started with a home tie, but against the momentum carried on by the Columbus Crew, they lost their domination in the regular season.
However, they came back with higher intensity and greater pressure to fight off the opposition after a scrappy opening goal to help restore the series to a tie.
In the 17th minute, Sean Davis swung in a free kick that connected with Daniel Royer.
Royer sent the ball back to the middle of the box to Aaron Long, whose shot was deflected in by Alex Muyl.
The uncertainty in the atmosphere weakened a little but not entirely.
If the Crew scored a goal, the Red Bulls would need to score two more goals to advance.
The Crew were more than capable of doing so, given that Justin Meram and Federico Higuaín only needed a spark to silence the Red Bull Arena.
With a clear intention to press, Tyler Adams, the 19-year-old U.S. international, was the most influential when the Red Bulls were without the ball.
He often weaved through the Columbus defense, intercepted passes in the midfield and distributed balls calmly after gaining possession.
“Tactically, we pushed Tyler higher up the field,” said Chris Armas, the Red Bulls’ head coach, on the changes he made after the first leg. “Pushing Tyler higher along with Kaku and pressing the way we did, I thought was the big difference.”
“I think we could be a little calmer on the ball,” said Gregg Berhalter, the Columbus head coach during a halftime interview with Fox Sports. “Give Red Bulls credit; they have a good press. But there’s still space for us.”
In the second half, the Crew seemed to be able to use the ball and space better than they did before the interval, bypassing the Red Bulls midfield often but failing to create threatening chances.
Ten minutes after the restart, Adams, receiving a cross from Michael Murillo who dribbled through two Crew players, squandered a shot over the bar at the edge of the box while unmarked.
As the intensity dwindled, Muyl turned the ball just inside the penalty arc after receiving a pass from Bradley Wright-Phillips, who moved in a different direction than three incoming Crew players.
Adams, who was charging forward into the box, laid off the pass to Royer and shot the ball past Zack Steffen.
The Red Bulls certainly rode on the recharged fervor and added another goal to the score line, effectively establishing a sense of certainty in the stadium.
Three minutes after the second goal, Kaku distributed a pass to Royer, who left Jonathan Mensah with sufficient space to dribble.
Royer seized the opening and lifted a strike over Steffen.
In a post-match interview with Fox Sports, Muyl admitted that the team failed to win at home against Montreal Impact, losing 1-0 in 2016, but the team had the “spirit” and “full confidence” this time.
Armas — who took over as the head coach after Jesse Marsch moved to RB Leipzig — largely continued the performance led by his predecessor.
The New York Red Bulls will play against Atlanta United, their rival in the Supporters’ Shield race, in the Eastern Conference final.
The winner of the series will win a spot in the MLS Cup Final.