(Mike Grella of the Red Bulls – Photo by Mike Lawrence)
The New York Red Bulls are moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals after they beat DC United 1-0 on Sunday afternoon, and 2-0 on aggregate of the two-game semifinal series.
The Red Bulls won the first leg in Washington last Sunday, and won 1-0 on a goal from Dax McCarty.
In the second leg, they limited DC to very few big chances, and kept the game scoreless, which was what they needed to advance. The game was hard-fought and chippy throughout, with some yellow cards handed out.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of the nature of the game, “Yeah, I think the game was chippy like we thought. Big credit to DC because they came in here and made it harder on us. They never really allowed us to get into a rhythm and establish our flow in the game. Part of that is we weren’t quite sharp enough but a lot of credit has to go to DC for the type of game they put us in.”
As the game was in the final minutes, the Red Bulls got more aggressive on offense and out some pressure on the net.
Bradley Wright-Phillips had a big chance in the 91st minute, as he came down the left side and United goalie Bill Hamid made the point-blank save.
A minute later, DC was frantically trying to make one last push. Bobby Boswell whiffed on a clearing chance, and Red Bulls midfielder Lloyd Sam pounced on it. Sam fed it across to Veron, who got it to Wright-Phillips, who buried it to make it 1-0 in the 92nd minute and send Red Bull Arena into a frenzy.
Wright-Phillips said of the goal, “The first chance was something I was waiting for all game. We knew it was going to be a tough game, tight defense, so I was waiting for that all game. I tried to go far post and Bill Hamid the good goalkeeper that he is, made a great save.”
On the roar of the crowd when he scored, Wright-Phillips said, “It was a nice feeling after just missing one and I was buzzing for Gonzalo (Veron). Both he and my brother (Shawn Wright-Phillips) have been training hard, so for them guys, when they get on, if they can just give us an assist or a goal, it makes me happy because they could very easily be playing, and it shows how good our team is because we got two wingers in Lloyd (Sam) and Mike (Grella).”
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles secured his second shutout in the two-leg playoff, after recording nine shutouts in the regular season.
Robles said of facing just 10 shots in the game, “Personally, I enjoyed it. Didn’t have to make too many saves, just had to come out and deal with some balls and some crosses. I think the compliment definitely has to go to the way that we play defensively, whether it’s the guys in the middle or the back line.”
Robles faced a scary moment in the 25th minute when he was clipped by DC’s Chris Rolfe. Fabian Espindola was coming down the left side and sent a cross toward the box to Rolfe, who was charging down the center of the field. As the ball came down, Robles and Rolfe collided, and Robles was slow to get up after a visit from the trainer.
Robles said of the play, “I caught some studs to my forearm. It was one of those plays where I have to make a quick decision. I’m glad we didn’t have to see the outcome if I did have to come out, but that’s part of being a goalkeeper. You have to come out and sacrifice your body. I thought maybe it was serious, but as the pain started to subside, the swelling kicked in and it wasn’t anything serious.”
Ronald Zubar had a nice game in place of the injured Damien Perrinelle. Robles said of playing without Perrinelle, who got hurt in the first leg against DC, “(Damien is a huge part of what we are doing here. For him to go down the way he did was tough for us. It’s emotional for us because we’re a family here, and for one of our own to go down that way, and he’s had such an amazing season, that’s tough. But we also have a lot of confidence in the guys that step in. We knew that Zubar was the next man up and he was more than competent. He has the quality to make a difference.”
Sacha Kljestan had a big game for the Red Bulls, providing nice defense and ball-control in the midfield and getting a couple of nice shots off.
Marsch said of Kljestan, “It wasn’t an easy night because we didn’t get a flow to the game like we normally do at home, so that ability for guys to stay focused and to do whatever it took to gain an edge on plays was really important. That’s what Sacha did well. Sacha fits the way we want to play in that number 10 spot. He covers the most ground almost every game and that’s what we need. We need a guy that’s tuned in on both sides of the ball.”
Kljestan said of the chippiness of the game, “Yeah, I mean, I think we expected that going in so I don’t think we were really too surprised by that. They are a physical team, they’ve made that known all season when we’ve played against them, and I think that the way that we handled it – we kept our heads cool, we stayed focused on the game, I don’t think we spent too much time yelling at the ref and things like that. I didn’t want to be the guy wasting energy doing that – so overall a very good, professional effort once again.”
This was the second straight season that the Red Bulls beat DC United in the Eastern semifinals. Last season, the Red Bulls lost to New England in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Wright-Phillips said of making it back here, “We got to this stage last season, and we’ll obviously plan for the upcoming game on how to get past that stage, but it’s one leg at a time.”
The Red Bulls will take on the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the first game in Columbus on Sunday, November 22, and the second leg at Red Bull Arena on the following Sunday, November 29.
Marsch said of the next round against Columbus, “Yeah, I would think things are going to be tight. It might not be as physical because DC plays a very physical style. I think that the way that they (Columbus) play and spread the field, and the way that our style kind of contrasts with their style, kind of sets up for a really good series.”
The Red Bulls have home field throughout the MLS Cup Playoffs after winning the Supporters’ Shield.
Marsch said of the home-field advantage that Red Bull Arena gives them, “The energy of the crowd tonight meant that our players stepped on the field and were excited about the challenge. Again, you know, it was just – it was like a crescendo, trying to get our team to make a play so that the fans could enjoy the game and enjoy us moving on. So, I’m glad we made that play at the end and we love playing here. This is a great stadium, especially when it’s full like tonight. There’s so much energy. You know, typically our team plays a very entertaining style, maybe not the best tonight, but I think it’s a fun team to watch. I’ve said that a lot this year, This is a hard team not to root for because they go after games, they’re good players, they’re talented, and they’re aggressive in the attacking third, they create a lot of chances, they score a lot of goals, so I think the fans have grown to love this team.”
The Red Bulls beat DC twice and tied once in the regular season, and won both of these playoff games. Marsch said of their dominance against DC, “It doesn’t feel like it was that lopsided this year. I think every game – maybe the second game that we had at home we kind of had a firm grasp on – but a lot of those games are tight, they’re emotional, they’re physical, they’re what rivalry games are supposed to be. So it’s been fun, I think DC from the beginning of the year, those early games, has made us a better team. You know, I was just making sure that they didn’t end our season. So we tried in all ways to understand what they were going to bring and also understand what we wanted to – how we wanted to play – and it was a feeling-out process. I don’t know that the series ever really settled down, you know? And it was almost 180 minutes of on its end, on the balance, one play, physical, no real rhythm. And sometimes that’s what it’s like, and our team did really well to survive the series and come out.”