What we saw at Mercedes Benz Stadium wasn’t real. What happened to the New York Red Bulls, that played close and tight scoring games towards the back end of the regular season, all of a sudden got blown out of the water and lost a three goals to nil 1st leg to Atlanta United.
The opening half was a strange one as head coach Chris Armas decided to change things up. The Red Bulls who normally tries to press and force the issue, decided to play a bit defensviely and held back to try and find a counter.
This led to a lapse of intensity as Josef Martinez finally put the ball in the back of the net against the Red Bulls in the 32nd minute. Jeff Larentowicz was deep along the near side of the field and delivered a nice cross to the far side of the field, it looked like Tim Parker was going to control it.
But sadly he misplayed the ball and Martinez who was right behind him was able to slip in and smack the ball past Luis Robles. But what’s even worse was that Michael Murillo was allowing Martinez that space, which allowed him to make it look so easy.
After halftime the Red Bulls went back to their old pressing ways and it looked like they were right back into this match as Bradley Wright-Phillips was able to convert in the 53rd minute what looked like an equalizer.
After VAR assistant Drew Fischer contacted Referee Kevin Stott, the goal was wiped out and the equalizer was null and void. What was originally thought to be offside as Alex Muyl was in an offside position when the shot was taken, yet he never made a motion towards the ball.
But apparently that wasn’t the case, as the VAR informed Stott that while Muyl was offside, he also shielded Brad Guzan’s line of sight to play the ball, and that’s what turned this 1st leg around in a hurry.
Then the beginning of the end began. Franco Escobar converted in the 71st minute as he took advantage of space that was allowed by Connor Lade on a cross from the near side, then in second half stoppage time it was Hector Villalba who bent the ball in a tight window, and got it past Robles and just inside the near post.
Why Chris Armas decided to change up the tactics for this one is very concerning, as you live your life thru the press, but at least he tried to change things up. Sadly wrong time to do it.
But the issues in this one are not pressing from the start and an unknown injury to Kemar Lawrence, as we just found out before the game began that he suffered a knock from training.
“I’ll say two things. Kemar is a big part of things around here. He has had a great year, we all know that.” Said Chris Armas “Maybe he will be back for Leg 2, we’ll see, he is day-to-day.
“But more importantly, Connor Lade stepped in and did a good job. He was solid. He gave everything like we knew that he would. It was a big test, a lot of direct play. He was fearless on the night. Connor stood up admirably, I believe.”
And now the Red Bulls are going to have to climb a huge mountain as they are behind on aggregate and have a four day span to rejuvenate and turn things around back at Red Bull Arena. What did Armas tell his players back in the locker room.
“Look, it is going to be difficult. It always was going to be. We put ourselves in a hole, but we came out of a series where we scored three in our building.” said Armas “That is the goal. That’s the starting point.
“We will score the first goal, and the rest will follow. We will come out a little bit differently with the energy and the fight that is going to be needed. It is pretty clear what is needed to be done. We are going to go home, and we are going to get it done.”
Confident words from Chris Armas, but if they can create a miracle on Thursday, then this would be the biggest Houdini trick in the history of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Sadly the supporters are already on the belief that this will be another exit.
The Red Bulls need to put on their major A+ game for Thursday night and do the impossible and they must make sure Atlanta United doesn’t secure a road goal or this one is over right away.