The New York Red Bulls needed three goals - at least - in the second leg of the 2018 MLS Eastern Conference Final to have any hope of advancing to play for MLS Cup. In the end, they found one - and that only arrived after all hope of winning the series against Atlanta United had expired.
Losing the series meant Atlanta got to celebrate being Eastern Conference Champion on the field at Red Bull Arena, which made RBNY’s 1-0 win feel like a loss. And, of course, it was a loss: Atlanta knew losing by a goal or two was an entirely acceptable result and never had to worry about losing control of the series.
Still, RBNY did beat a very good team, 1-0, and the player ratings can’t be too hard on the players for not getting the goals they needed to get to MLS Cup.
Luis Robles - 7.5: Stifling Josef Martinez in the first minute stopped the game being over for RBNY before it had really started.
Weak shot? Sure. But Robles positioned himself well, made Martinez work for a goal he was odds-on to get, and won the battle.
And the RBNY captain pulled out another fine stop to keep Julian Gressel from sneaking a goal in for Atlanta. His job was to keep hope alive by keeping Atlanta off the board, and he did it.
The clean sheet was Robles’ eighth in the playoffs all-time for RBNY: he has more career post-season shutouts for the club than the rest of the team’s goalkeepers combined.
Connor Lade - 6: Didn’t a lot wrong and got forward regularly to try to add width to the attack. Lade was subbed out early in the second half as Chris Armas tried to increase the team’s attacking options, but that should not be held against him.
Aaron Long - 7.5: A performance worthy of the reigning MLS Defender of the Year - Long shut down a number of Atlanta counter-attacking opportunities that might otherwise have seen RBNY struggle even to achieve the consolation of winning its last home game of the year.
Tim Parker - 8: Put the ball in the net twice - though only one goal counted; back to his better self after a disappointing display in the first leg.
Michael Murillo - 6: A solid performance from Murillo, though not the exceptional one the match required.
Sean Davis - 6: Not great, but not bad either - like most of the team on the day.
Tyler Adams - 5: Very, very nearly gave the game away in the opening minute by playing Josef Martinez in behind the RBNY back line. Adams bounced back, but the closest he got to a game-breaking moment was that first-minute mistake.
Daniel Royer - 5: The Player Ratings were hoping for a big second-leg performance from Danny Royer, but sadly he only had one of those available this season and he used it agains Columbus.
Kaku - 6: Delivered a perfect skimming cross to the six-yard box early in the second half, and that illustrated how much RBNY has been missing its playmaker recently. Why Kaku isn’t on the ball in dangerous positions more often is a question Chris Armas will need to address in pre-season.
Alex Muyl - 5: Seemed like it was his touch that took Kaku’s cross just out of BWP’s reach. Muyl’s two big contributions to this series were being the man offside who got BWP’s goal in the first leg called off, and the guy who killed the play that might have opened up the game for RBNY in the second.
Bradley Wright-Phillips - 6: RBNY’s big idea for most of the game was to punt the ball over the Atlanta back line and hope BWP could run on to it. That he patiently endured this sub-par service is a testament to his professionalism.
Derrick Etienne - 5: He was brought in early in the second half to give RBNY more attacking options. Why Armas believed that Etienne would do this most effectively from left back is difficult to say.
Marc Rzatkowski - 5: He was present.
Andreas Ivan - 5: One of his livelier outings for RBNY, Ivan conjured three shots in the 20-odd minutes he was on the field. Only one on target, unfortunately.
Coach: Chris Armas - 5: On the one hand, a tidy 1-0 win over an elite team is not to be sniffed at; on the other hand, the occasion called for a much bigger win, and it wasn’t clear Armas really gave the team the tools to achieve that. Faced with an opponent predictably playing deep-lying, compact, counter-attacking soccer, Armas’ big idea to change the flow of the game was introducing Derrick Etienne as a left wing back in the second half. RBNY needed a better idea than that on the day.