Red Bull Arena will be home to another tightly contested, nail biting affair. The 1-0 loss in Columbus was a punch to the gut of many Red Bull supporters after winning the Supporters Shield on the final day.
A second half goal by Gyasi Zardes was enough for the Crew to take the first leg. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, the goal could have been completely avoided if not for multiple little mistakes.
The goal came as a result of over shifting in the Red Bulls defense. Michael Murillo started the downfall as he tried to close down Milton Valenzuela on the ball. Tim Parker then shifted towards right back, leaving Aaron Long in the middle to cover both Federico HIguain and Zardes.
The cutting pass Valenzuela played was nearly cut out by Tyler Adams, but it was just out of his reach. Higuain deftly backheeled the ball to a wide open Zardes, who cannot be left with that much space on his current form.
Looking back at the goal, Murillo over reacted to the closing down of Valenzuela. He started the domino effect that ultimately left too much space for the Crew to exploit. LA Galaxy Zardes may have missed that chance back in the day, but revived, Columbus Crew Zardes did not waste a second slotting past Luis Robles.
The one thing the Red Bulls did on the night was shut down Patrick Mullins. He was promptly substituted off at halftime for Higuain, which in reality was the Crew’s plan all along. Mullins will likely start next match on the bench, making way for the dangerous Argentine.
The real travesty on the night was the shambolic display of offense the Red Bulls put forth. A late chance from Bradley Wright-Phillips produced an incredible reflex save from goalkeeper of the year Zack Steffen.
A few other chances came and went, including a big chance off a corner swung in by Kaku. Other than that, the Red Bulls really lacked any real conviction going forward the whole match.
Chris Armas’ men were out-passed and out-possessed for the full 90 minutes. This is nothing new for a team that thrives on the counter attack, but it seemed worse than most matches.
Armas will need to seriously consider either a tactics switch or a personnel switch for the second leg at home. An easy target for Red Bulls supporters has been Alex Muyl, but this time the criticism may be justified.
Muyl did not offer the Red Bulls enough on either side of the ball last match. The panic he exudes in the final third often costs the Red Bulls valuable chances as he over dribbles or fails to pick a pass.
At least with Derrick Etienne in the side, the Haitians route one mindset gives the team a chance to either score or create an opportunity. Armas should seriously consider swapping in Etienne, starting him over Muyl for the second leg.
Royer also failed to make much of an impact on the other side of the field, which is worrying. The Austian’s form dipped heavily towards the end of the season, scoring just once in the Red Bulls final eight matches of the year.
His combination play with Wright-Phillips was just a bit off as he recorded just 17 touches in his entire 63 minute appearance. Getting him more involved in the attack should be a big focus point for the Red Bulls frontmen.
Yes, the Red Bulls supporters will want their team to advance to the next round. More than that, though, they at least want a performance worth bragging about. Another Metro Meltdown will diminish the overflowing success that this season produced.
There will always be years where fans feel their team has what it takes to win it all, but there has never been one more clear for this Red Bulls team than the current group of players. Numerous occasions of spirit, fight, and overall togetherness have brought the supporters so close to this year’s team.
The aggregate is only 1-0 in favor of the Crew. Teams have come back from worse, and the Red Bulls could be in a much worse position. The team has proven many times that they are capable of a comeback this season, so do not expect them to go out with a wimper.