The 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs did not begin perfectly for the New York Red Bulls this past weekend, losing 1-0 in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Columbus Crew SC. Considering New York’s stellar home record over the last few years and coming off a league record for points in a season, it is certainly not impossible for them to turn things around in the second leg. But what if they don’t?

Opinion: A view of 2018 if the New York Red Bulls don’t win MLS Cup

There is so much that was accomplished throughout an incredible 2018 campaign. How the team’s legacy will be defined over the course of the next couple of weeks? The playoffs put an immense amount of pressure on all sides.

The Red Bulls captured their third Supporters’ Shield in franchise history. They also set a new MLS record for points (71) along the way. That fact becomes even more special when considering some of the events occurring around the squad.

New York were forced to balance multiple competitions straight from the start. Concacaf Champions League offered a unique challenge of depth. In the face of adversity, and integrating new players, the club made their way to the semifinals.

Manager Jesse Marsch departed in the summer to test himself in Europe, as assistant Chris Armas took over. But New York trusted their system, their tactics and the individuals in the locker room, and found themselves at the top of the league when the dust settled. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles again enjoyed positive seasons, and helped to guide the side towards success.

The topic becomes fascinating when factoring in the team that previously held the Red Bulls’ record. Pundits hailed Toronto FC as not only the greatest in MLS history, but CONCACAF’s top squad by some as well. New York surpassed their mark of last year, and did so while competing in the Champions League. Instead of that extra competition destroying them, the Red Bulls thrived amidst a hectic schedule of games.

Elimination, whether it arrives on Sunday or at any other round of the current playoffs, would tarnish 2018 for many fans and pundits. But in various ways that outlook is too simplistic, and does not take into account the remarkable effort and commitment of the players to achieve something that appeared unreachable. Toronto were “the best MLS squad ever”, and New York did not let their milestone last for more than a year. That by itself warrants praise.

Chris Armas’ team is more than capable of finding the necessary result on Sunday versus Columbus to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. The New York Red Bulls have earned so much already, and cup glory is potentially on the horizon. However, nobody can take away 2018 from them no matter how this run should end.

 

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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