After Atlanta United hit the back of the net for the third time on Sunday, the strength to keep hope within most New York Red Bulls fans seemed to evaporate.
Preview: Red Bulls Need a Four-Goal Comeback to Qualify for MLS Cup
Everything from the way Chris Armas approached the match from the start to his tactical adjustments throughout it were completely against the NYRB identity. The usual high press that had gotten the better of Atlanta United on three previous occasions was sacrificed in favor of a passive, defensive game plan. It all seemed too familiar of previous years’ performances that have seen the Red Bulls bow out of MLS Cup contention.
An injury to Kemar Lawrence in training did not help the situation either as Connor Lade was forced into the starting lineup. He seemed lost for the majority of the game, overpowered in both strength and speed by Atlanta’s forwards.
Tyler Adams, Alex Muyl, and Daniel Royer all also under performed on a night where their contributions were vital to gain momentum in this away leg. Royer and Muyl almost always seemed too far from the Red Bulls’ build-up play. Atlanta did well to isolate Kaku from his wingers and Bradley Wright-Phillips, often forcing the Paraguayan into making needless giveaways. As Atlanta began to stretch the Red Bulls, Adams’ influence on the match also faded in his attempt to keep pace with their passing.
The odds are stacked against the Red Bulls. There is no argument at this point that Atlanta are the outright favorites to win this tie and potentially MLS Cup. However, New York’s fortunes at home in the playoffs and regular season are what they need to build on to put together this seemingly impossible comeback.
Arams’ men have not conceded a goal at home since August 5. They defeated Atlanta 2-0 in September by suffocating Atlanta’s creativity with a surprisingly well performed high press. They even put three past the Columbus Crew in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal to be in this position to begin with. Leading up to the playoffs, there was talk coming out of the franchise that this group of young players had a different feeling to it than previous teams. Well, now is the time to prove that statement true.
If that entails going out in a blaze of fire because Armas decided to play the NYRB way, then so be it. This match is going to test the leadership of Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles, force Kaku and Royer to stamp their authority on the match, and push the limits of young stars like Muyl and Adams in midfield. As a team, New York need to leave absolutely everything out on the field Thursday night if they have any shot of trumping Atlanta.
Projected Starting XI
New York Red Bulls (4-2-3-1): Robles; Murillo, Long, Parker, Lade; Adams, Davis; Muyl, Kaku, Royer; Wright-Phillips
Atlanta United (3-5-2): Guzan; Larentowicz, Parkhurst, Pirez; Escobar, Gressel, Remedi, Nagbe, Garza; Almiron, Martinez
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography