The New York Red Bulls suffered through a rough night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, ultimately conceding the first leg of the 2018 MLS Eastern Conference Final by a potentially series-ending 3-0.
There is still a second leg to play, of course. The Red Bulls have a mountain to climb, but they have 90 minutes at home to launch themselves at the task of beating Atlanta by at least three goals (or more, if Atlanta picks up an away goal along the way).
The best thing one can say about RBNY’s first-leg performance is the team left itself a lot of room for improvement.
Luis Robles - 6: On a night where he would have needed to be exceptional to keep the score down, Robles was merely capable.
Connor Lade - 4: Chris Armas called Lade’s performance “solid”, and relative to the rest of the team, it certainly was - but on a day when the entire team’s performance was subpar, “solid” isn’t great. Atlanta’s man-of-the-match was Franco Escobar, who took full advantage of the physical mis-match between himself and Lade. That didn’t give the game away in itself, and Lade has spent his entire career playing teams that think he can be bullied off the ball. But it was not a good night for the RBNY back-line. Lade gets points for effort, but not much more than that.
Aaron Long - 4: Teed up BWP for the goal that didn’t count, and there weren’t many RBNY players who walked out of this game with a positive memory or two.
Tim Parker - 2: Play back the Atlanta goals and you see a lot of RBNY players you wish had made different decisions in the moment. Parker seemed to find his way into every highlight without actually doing anything positive.
MAKE. IT. TWO.— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) November 25, 2018
Miggy ➡️ Julian ➡️ Franco https://t.co/udTwdW6Q1J
Michael Murillo - 2: So close to every goal Atlanta scored and so utterly ineffective in preventing any of them that one started to wonder if Murillo had been replaced by a Five Stripes’ season-ticket holder offered the chance to watch the game from the best possible spot.
Sean Davis - 4: Some day, Davis may well leave RBNY, very possibly to play for a team that doesn’t play the way the Red Bulls play. His agent will be sure to leave this game out of the highlight reels.
Tyler Adams - 4: It is assumed the deal to transfer Adams to RB Leipzig this winter is done and dusted. But perhaps this game represented a last-ditch effort by Chris Armas to hang on to his superstar midfielder. Sadly, one imagines Jesse Marsch’s report to Ralf Rangnick on this game would be mostly likely to include the advice that Adams might be better off being flown to Germany before the second leg, if for nothing else than to protect him from any further exposure to game-plans that ask him to do little more than a lot of running for no great consequence.
Daniel Royer - 3: On the bright side, he had a pretty ineffective game in the first leg of RBNY’s last playoff series, against Columbus Crew. And then he stepped up and all but won the Eastern Conference Semifinal for the Red Bulls single-handed.
Kaku - 3: You can do worse things with your time than just focusing on Kaku when RBNY is playing. He reliably does things that will delight you.
But the adjustment to his role on the team since Chris Armas took over as head coach appears mostly to have rendered Kaku incapable of fully imposing himself in the attacking third. If he and Armas can’t figure out how to change that in the next few days, then they will at least know their priority for the off-season: Kaku is supposed to be one of the main attractions of this RBNY squad; right now, he’s little more than a sideshow.
Alex Muyl - 3: Muyl’s role in RBNY’s disallowed goal rather summed up his night - he was mostly invisible and entirely forgettable for much of the game, and when he did draw attention toward himself it was for unfortunate reasons.
Bradley Wright-Phillips - 6: Some distance from his best day, but BWP still converted the best chance that fell his way. History will record the Red Bulls scored no goals in this game. BWP may remember it differently.
Derrick Etienne - 4: Please ignore this advice:
Atlanta deserved this win, 100%. But man if you're a #RBNY fan you've got to be furious at Etienne for his defensive "effort" on the 2nd & 3rd ATL goals.— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) November 26, 2018
*Especially* the third. Can't pull out of a potential 50/50 like that when your season's on the line. #ATLvRBNY
If you’re mad at Etienne for missing a tackle or two, you’re going to rage yourself into an early grave, and Once A Metro cares about you too much to see that happen.
If the highest-scoring team in MLS could be shut down by Derrick Etienne’s defensive work...well, he’d be transferring to RB Leipzig this winter instead of Tyler Adams, and we’d all be very curious as to why RBNY regards him primarily as a forward.
In common with the rest of teammates, Etienne didn’t impact the game the way he would have liked. Not his best day, but he was primarily on the field to boost RBNY’s attack, not shore up the back-line.
Marc Rzatkowski - 4: Whatever it is fair to expect of a player who entered the game in the 84th minute, let’s say Rzatkowski did it. Not much else, but he was at least present.
Brian White - 4: Skied a half-chance near the death, which at least showed he was getting into the right positions in his minimal time on the field.
Coach: Chris Armas - 1: This column takes the view that Armas bears the greatest responsibility for RBNY’s mauling at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Assuming the plan was to sit back for a while and deny Atlanta the direct, counter-attacking game it had been expecting to play, it seems fair to say the plan did not work. The Five Stripes are comfortable with the ball and got plenty of time and space to settle any nerves. By the end of 90 minutes, Atlanta was exuberant and RBNY was exhausted. Armas would be getting a lot more credit if RBNY’s disallowed goal had stood, but such is the burden of being head coach: one call goes against your team and your entire game plan looks futile.
Plan A didn’t work at all: RBNY wasted its first-half energy on trying to contain Atlanta and still went into half-time down a goal. Plan B would be looking a lot better if BWP’s goal had counted. Armas needs to think very hard about whatever part of the plan called for throwing Marc Rzatkowski and Brian White on to the field for the last five or 10 minutes and giving up another goal. There are days when nothing you do seems to work the way you want it to: this was one of those days for Armas.