The Red Bulls were already down a goal in this series and the formula to stop a pressing team is to bunker, bunker and bunker till you hit them on the counter. The Montreal Impact is the latest side to take down the New York Red Bulls in the MLS playoffs, thanks t o a 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena after a 1-0 win at Stade Saputo.
Early hope came to the Red Bulls when Gonzalo Veron was taken down in the area by Evan Bush and a penalty was awarded in the 20th minute. Sacha Kljestan took the spot kick and struck it to his left, but Bush guessed right to make the save and thwart the chance.
Here are some more angles of that Bush penalty save. pic.twitter.com/xNDkJryxDs— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) November 6, 2016
All match long the Impact let the Red Bulls possess the ball and attack. But that was the plan: cede possession, pack the box, and counter whenever possible. It was a plan that accepted RBNY would have more chances, but also calculated Montreal's would be better - or better taken. Ignacio Piatti conjured the opening goal out of...well, not quite nothing, but not nearly as much as the Red Bulls had for some of their chances-not-taken.
What a strike from Piatti. 1-0 Montreal. 2-0 aggregate, and an away goal. pic.twitter.com/VAvyuUPrnR— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) November 6, 2016
It was the away goal and it was the killer, though RBNY redoubled its effort and kept on pressuring for an equalizer.
Defended by Chris Duvall, Piatti pulled the ball away from him and took a surprising shot that just fooled Luis Robles in net. When Robles tried to get back on it and got a glove on the ball, it wasn't enough to keep it out. L'Impact had the lead, the away goal, and one foot in the next round of the playoffs.
Bradley Wright-Phillips finally got the Red Bulls on the board in the 77th minute. Daniel Royer got the ball from Damien Perrinelle and when he one timed it across, BWP settled it down and converted his seventh career playoff goal.
BWP finally gets one for RBNY. 1-1 on the day. Montreal have a 2-1 lead on aggregate with an away goal. pic.twitter.com/UioXlH7P35— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) November 6, 2016
But it didn't matter as Piatti followed the equalizer by bagging his second. Assisted by Didier Drogba, he put the Red Bulls away 2-1 in the match and 3-1 on aggregate.
Montreal so efficient on the break. Piatti scores again and that puts this match out of reach for RBNY. pic.twitter.com/iPiFXlQxr9— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) November 6, 2016
After the loss, a dejected Jesse Marsch came to the interview room to discuss what happened. The disbelief was showing on his face.
"I felt like we dominated every single statistical category. It's a weird sport that way, where I don't know how many other sports there are that you can dominate so much and not be victorious - but that's what our sport is," Jesse Marsch. "I felt both games were under control. I thought, obviously, once it gets to be 1-0 here at home and now your aggregate is two and you're chasing the game with a road goal, the whole thing goes haywire. But I felt good about our tactics and our approach - and we weren't good enough in the series to capitalize on our advantages.
If I go through the whole series and look at how many good chances we gave up 'til it became 2-0: it's certainly not many. I'm gutted for my team, my staff, my organization and my fan base - as everyone poured their hearts into this. I feel a big sense of disappointment in our ability to win the Cup, period. I feel like we had two great seasons here, but in the end we are walking away empty-handed."
After his penalty attempt was saved, Kljestan was at the center of another incident that served to define RBNY's on-field woes on the day: he would be missing for a good 12-14 minutes, forcing the Red Bulls were down to 10 men, after Marco Donadel accidentally flung his elbow to the face of Kljestan - seemingly breaking his nose. Sacha tried to soldier on, but ultimately had to seek treatment:
"Took one to the nose and it wouldn't stop bleeding for five minutes there so it was getting pretty close to either I was going to come out of the game or to stay in - I was doing my best if I wanted to stay in the game," said Kljestan. "Finally we got the bleeding to stop, it was going down my throat so that's why I came out. I didn't think it was a big deal 'til it went down my throat."
The RBNY/MetroStars history of playoff futility extends for another season, though this is the first time since 2103 the club hasn't been to the Eastern Conference final. The time to review mistakes starts now. The time to fix them starts in pre-season next year. And the time to apply the lessons learned starts with a CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal against the Vancouver Whitecaps in February.