The MLS playoffs got off to a roaring start. First round matches were filled with tense matches and some sublime goals. Only one match went to penalties, though, as the Columbus Crew defeated DC United on their own turf.
A brace from Argentine midfielder Federico Higuain was overshadowed by a ridiculous match tying volley from Nick DeLeon in the 116th minute. Higuain had the last laugh, though, slotting his penalty home in the shootout while DeLeon missed the target to seal the victory for the Crew.
Since the Union were knocked out by NYCFC, the Red Bulls now get to face the Crew due to their lower seed ranking. This is set to be a massive second round tie for both clubs, with the past playing a big part in this playoff rivalry.
The Red Bulls did not fare too well against the Crew in the regular season. A 1-1 draw in Columbus was followed up seven weeks later with a 3-2 win by the Crew at Red Bull Arena.
The first half of that loss at Red Bull Arena was some of the worst football that the Red Bulls played all season. From the early seventh minute goal to the numerous mistakes the team made, the Red Bulls were simply not up for it that match.
Higuain did not play a single minute in that 3-2 win as Patrick Mullins was the star man on the day for the Crew. Mullins notched a goal and an assist in the first 24 minutes of the match, proving to be enough by the end of the 90 minutes.
Mullins featured for just a few seconds in the teams win at DC United, hitting the post on his penalty attempt in the shootout. The dreadful display that Justin Meram put on against DC could cost him a spot against the Red Bulls, as Mullins could be prefered to the Iraq international.
Pedro Santos also picked up an injury against the Crew, so Meram could consider himself lucky in that case. Mullins will likely replace Santos in attack, keeping Meram as a wide option for the Crew.
The Red Bulls will need to keep tabs on the whole of the attack for Columbus, with Gyasi Zardes requiring extra attention. The revived American striker caused many problems for DC United despite staying off the scoresheet.
Zardes already enjoyed a goal against the Red Bulls this season. Aaron Long and Tim Parker will be very busy trying to keep him quiet this match, especially with the first leg being in Columbus.
The Red Bulls made their fans work a bit for their win against Orlando last match. Derrick Etienne Jr. had his first half penalty saved as the Red Bulls nearly lost their cool in the first half.
A redemption for the Haitian Messi came early in the second half as Murillo assisted on Etienne’s fifth goal of the season. It will be interesting to see if Etienne starts over Daniel Royer in this first leg, especially considering Royer scored against the Crew in July.
That is the only real question mark surrounding the Red Bulls lineup. Chris Armas has locked down his favored starting XI and should be making minimal changes barring any injuries.
The first leg of these playoff matches can often be a bit cagey as both teams attempt to feel out one another. Gregg Berhalter will know that keeping the Red Bulls from scoring will be massive, but do not expect the Crew to sit back.
This will mark the Crew’s third match in the last seven days. A 120 minute performance against DC will not help the legs of the Crew players as they go up against the dangerously fit Red Bulls team.
For the Red Bulls, they need to look to head back to Red Bull Arena on November 11th with at least a draw, especially if they can grab a goal or two. This will force the Crew to come out firing in the second leg, leaving them open for the deadly counter attack.
A lot will be deducted from this match depending on the result. Red Bull supporters know the potential of this team, so this first leg in Columbus will show just how far Armas is willing to push his men.