The New York Red Bulls started their quest for the MLS Cup with a 1-0 win on the road against archrival D.C. United on Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of the win, “I thought it was a hard-fought match and a playoff atmosphere. D.C., I thought, played well, battled hard, and made it difficult on us all over the field like we knew they would. We know the heart of the team of D.C. United, we know that they’re going to make you earn every inch at all moments of the game, and that’s what the game was like today. We managed to get one, get a big lead, and now set ourselves up to go back home and push the game there.”
Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty got the lone goal of the match in the 71st minute, as he freed himself near the goalpost on a set piece and headed in a ball off that came to him off of Sacha Kljestan’s foot.
It was the second career postseason goal for McCarty in his 21st career playoff game.
Marsch said of McCarty’s goal, “There’s a lot of little set plays that we build in; the little movements to try and unsettle the team or try to keep them guessing. It’s always kind of up to Sacha (Kljestan) to be the quarterback of these different moments and decide what play we’re going to use and when. It’s not just that. It’s a great ball in the box, which I thought he served a lot a bunch of great balls all night, and then Dax (McCarty) does enough to gain a little bit of room and finish the goal, so good job from those two.”
Red Bulls goalie Luis Robles said of McCarty, “He’s our captain. At the end of the day, we feed off the way he plays. For him to score a goal, the way he did, in such a big moment is just a cherry on top of an incredible season that he’s had. With that being said, we knew it was going to be a battle in the midfield and if our three guys could win the second balls in the first half, it was going to give us an opportunity to get a goal and that’s what we started to see. We started to open the game a little bit and got some chances on goal.”
Robles earned his second career postseason shutout, with his first coming in the Eastern Semifinals a year ago against D.C. United. He defended dangerous crosses and anything that came into the crease, but did not record a save, as D.C. did not get credited with a shot on net.
Marsch said of holding D.C United without a shot, “I didn’t know that statistic, but I still think they were very dangerous at times. Guys like (Fabian) Espindola and (Alvaro) Saborio never make you feel at ease because they’re always able to pull off a play. Our defense did well tonight and stood them up in different moments. Most of the chances they got were either from set pieces or shots from a far distance, so that’s a credit to our guys. It won’t be easy to repeat the same feat at home.”
Marsch said of the job Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga did on Espindola, “We just talked at halftime about standing him up and not falling for his tricks, little flicks and little games that he likes to play and just staying focused on doing the job. Matt’s first playoff game; we’re continuing to try and help him understand what big games are like. He picked up a yellow (card) on the play in the first half, but then the rest of the half I thought he was almost perfect. Not an easy job on Espindola. He’s the heart of their team, he makes things happen and he’s not an easy guy to play against.”
Robles said of limiting D.C. United’s chances, “We knew that it was going to be a tough task going up against (Alvaro) Saborio and Fabi (Espindola). They’re two very good forwards that have a lot of experience in this league and a lot of success. For us to be able to limit their chances today is a huge compliment to our defense, but with that being said, we know we’re only halfway through and it was important to get that road goal, but we’ll look forward to the next game.”
D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olsen said of what was missing for his team’s offense, “I think we had a few good looks. In the first half, Sabo (Alvaro Saborio) had one or two chances that came from service. You don’t need a lot. They’re a good team, and we’re not going to get a boatload of chances against them. We understood that, so we have to do well with the few we have. We didn’t do that. We didn’t have many, but you only need a few. You’ve got plenty of set pieces to get a piece on and you have a few chances there again in the first half. In the second half, you saw which team has been off for a week (Red Bulls), and you see a team that’s been grinding and slogging through the last 10 days. Everybody was going into the reserve tank to push the game. That’s a tough thing to do. But we’ll have a week to recover and put our full team out there again.”
The second leg of the two-part Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup will take place on Sunday, November 8 at Red Bull Arena. The winner of the aggregate, or combined, score will move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Marsch said of taking the lead on aggregate, “We’re not taking anything for granted; it’s the playoffs. D.C. is going to come to Red Bull Arena fighting for dear life. If you have one slip-up, all of the sudden, the game can be in the balance there. With the away goal rules, we’re far out of the woods here. We’ve gotten to halftime, we’ve gotten a lead, but we certainly have a long way to go.”
The away goal rule that Marsch referred to is how it counts more in the aggregate in a way than home goals. The Red Bulls have one road goal from this game, which means that if D.C. scores, that is negated and the Red Bulls have to come out on top in the aggregate. Where it could hurt the Red Bulls is if D.C. wins 2-1 or 3-2, et al, next Sunday, that would make the aggregate even and the road goals would be the tiebreaker, and would be won by United.
Olsen said of looking forward to the second leg, “Again, I’m happy with the performance today for the most part. Obviously, we need to get the goal in the few chances that we have or do better on set pieces. We have to shore up the other side. They are better at home. They’re as good in New York as any team in this league. It’s a very tough place to play. I don’t care. That doesn’t concern me or these guys. It’s a great challenge now to go in there and get the result that we need.”