Heading into Sunday night, the New York Red Bulls stood 0-8 in two legged series after losing the first leg. Many outside the club believed failure was inevitable. The team was conscious of that narrative, yet the past remains completely irrelevant to this current team. That fearless mentality was on full display in their dominating 3-0 win over a pesky Columbus Crew side.
Youth and a bolstered backline key to shrugging off history
Coach Chris Armas deployed his side in a 4-1-4-1 which put added responsibility on his central midfielders, Sean Davis and Tyler Adams. Adams’ advanced position, alongside Kaku, helped the Red Bulls stay on the front foot, with the calculated risk of leaving Sean Davis on an island with Federico Higuain.
The risk was well worth the reward, Tyler Adams was a destroyer high up on the field disrupting Columbus’ hope to build out of the back. Adams finished with 2 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 9 recoveries. By himself, Sean Davis blanketed the backline with 11 recoveries and three tackles covering a massive parcel of the midfield. In turn, both players rose to the occasion, something that doesn’t surprise veteran striker, Bradley Wright-Phillips.
“The youngsters. These guys are fearless, you’ve got Tyler, Sean, that are in the center midfield. You know how hard that is to play all season long against some veterans in the league and these guys just go out there with no fear?” Wright-Phillips added, “Even after mistakes they just come and bounce back. It’s unbelievable to see because old guys like me think ‘what if…or if they did score, I’d be like here we go again’ but these guys don’t even have that in their mind. They just go out and play and give guys like me and our team the same confidence. It’s amazing.”
While the youngsters brought life to a team teetering on the verge of elimination, Daniel Royer pushed the team through, scoring a late brace. With the aggregate tied at 1-1 heading into halftime, one goal from Columbus could have put the dagger in the Red Bulls season but it didn’t.
A reason for that according to Armas was, “we like the guys to play with freedom. What a thing of beauty if the guys can go out there and just play. And the way they got that second goal all of a sudden there’s these little back heels, there’s all this stuff going on and you sit back and you love it because now they’re playing free.”
Shutout win, courtesy of a solid backline
It was a night in which confidence and energy was palpable from position-to-position. And not to harp on historical mishaps, but that free flowing play seldom came in previous playoff runs. Under Armas, patient build up became more evident and was put on exhibition in the Red Bulls’ second goal. There was little tension in the air on Sunday, due in large part to the reliability of the Red Bulls’ center-back pairing.
Luis Robles spoke about the difference between the 2018 squad and years past. He was quick to credit the backline.
“It seems like every year at the end of the season we’re going to exit interviews and ask the staff ‘what defender are we going to get, how are we going to bolster our defense?’ and usually it was met with some sort of muted response. Then we go get more attackers” Robles chuckled and went on to say, “so we just kinda got used to it, which is fine because we play exciting football and part of exciting football is to have a good offense and yet this offseason the biggest move we made was to solidify that backline.
“We already had great defenders, we just added another good center back. He ended up being more than just a good center back, he ended up being a big piece that was missing in our puzzle, a lot has been said about A-lo(Aaron long) , Kemar and Amir was an all star and yet you ask anyone in this locker room and they know Tim parker. Tim Parker is a huge reason why we’re where were at right now.”
Last week, MLS named Aaron Long Defender of the Year. The award could’ve gone to either Long or Parker. The two elevate each other’s play and that’s been especially evident down the stretch. Starting on September 22nd, the New York Red Bulls have conceded just two goals. It is impossible to not contribute that to the “missing piece”, Tim Parker.
The Red Bulls have never had this much quality at both center back positions up until now. And what is probably the most encouraging part of it all, is how little that means to these two. Both are fresh faces at the club. They are oblivious to disproving history and all that matters is winning MLS Cup.
While rewriting history, it seems like the Red Bulls have struck a perfect balance. Youth and experience. Fearlessness and temper. Creativity and discipline.
That all gets put to the test against Atlanta United on November 25th and 29th. A challenge Luis Robles believes they are up to, “we’re going against history. And it’s going to take a special group that’s going to have to find a way to re-write history – instead of that was us, it’s this is us.”