The New York Red Bulls' slumped to their first defeat since July at an unfortunate moment: the opening game of the playoffs. The 1-0 loss to Montreal Impact does not end RBNY's post-season; it just gently tilts the advantage toward Montreal. There is a second leg to play, and it will be played at Red Bull Arena. RBNY's minimum task was to bring the series home to Harrison with something to play for - and a home win by two goals is very much something for which to play.
The playoffs aren't over for RBNY. The team has played L'Impact at RBA twice already this season, in games that ended 3-1 and 1-0 to the Red Bulls. Either of those results would suit RBNY, forcing extra-time at the very least. Losing for the first time since July doesn't mean the wheels are off, but it is equally a reminder that unbeaten does not mean unbeatable.
1. Sometimes, it's just not your day
In the 3rd minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips lost out to Evan Bush in a one-on-one that saw the 'keeper make exactly the right decisions to neutralize the league's leading scorer.
BWP gets free with the first big chance of the day, but Evan Bush reads the game very well. pic.twitter.com/g03EngeRgU— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 30, 2016
In the 29th minute, BWP thought he had a penalty, but there wasn't enough in his stumble in the box for the referee to call the foul.
In the 52nd minute, Felipe hit the crossbar.
Felipe off the crossbar! pic.twitter.com/aU6IF2jgKn— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 30, 2016
In the 67th minute, Sacha Kljestan was just a step slow (or Mike Grella's pass was just a touch short) to capitalize on space opened up after BWP's run disturbed Montreal's defensive shape.
RBNY create a glorious opportunity, but Evan Bush reads the game very well again and comes out to make the stop. Still 1-0 Montreal pic.twitter.com/gq5NOX8Prz— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 30, 2016
In injury-time, Gonzalo Veron created a chance for Omer Damari that created a chance for BWP.
Oh dear BWP. Golden chance. pic.twitter.com/QH5qnXrwH4— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 30, 2016
Five solid opportunities of which one might reasonably be expected to provide a goal. But despite creating almost every possible category of opportunity, the Red Bulls couldn't find the finish required to get the ball in the net.
It wasn't their day.
2. It was Matteo Mancosu's day
The ongoing absence of Didier Drogba from Montreal's lineup seems less and less significant as Matteo Mancosu continues to demonstrate his worth. He had a brace and an assist in L'Impact's opening game of these playoffs, the 4-2 win over D.C. United. In this game, he saw a first-half header bounce the wrong side of the post...
Montreal fashion a chance through some great work by Piatti. Mancosu's header trickles wide however and we're still scoreless. pic.twitter.com/D6oaPGMXQq— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 30, 2016
...and then scored from arguably the most difficult chance of the match, for any player on either team.
What a hit!!! Mancosu makes it 1-0 Montreal!!! pic.twitter.com/1hTciruVxp— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 30, 2016
Tough to score from that angle. Particularly tough to score when you're waiting for a ball to drop over your shoulder and know you have a very narrow window before the center backs close in on you or the ball gets too close to the 'keeper. Even tougher when that narrow window means you have to take your shot mid-stride and on the volley.
The Red Bulls didn't win because they didn't score. They lost because Mancosu scored a very worthy winner.
3. RBNY might be shorthanded. Again.
Remember the build-up to this game, when we thought the Red Bulls had got themselves back to full fitness just in time for the playoffs? That thought didn't last long.
The starting lineup revealed that Ronald Zubar and Daniel Royer aren't quite ready for game time.
In injury-time, Kemar Lawrence requested he be subbed off, raising a fresh injury concern for the week ahead.
Omer Damari only got on the pitch in the 82nd minute. He looked sharp, and then he lost his mind.
Red Card to Demari pic.twitter.com/Wpe1wZ1L6j— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 30, 2016
Damari will be suspended for the next leg. We'll sweat over Kemar Lawrence's fitness for the next few days. And Zubar and Royer will doubtless be described as ready-to-go, but we'll have to wait to see RBNY's next match-day 18 to determine who is really fit or not on the roster.