(Dax McCarty of the Red Bulls dribbles up the field – @NewYorkRedBulls on Twitter)
It took the Columbus Crew scored just nine seconds to get the lead against the Red Bulls on Sunday in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Finals, and they rolled to a 2-0 win.
The Red Bulls host the second leg next Sunday, and they will need to score twice to force overtime or three goals to win. If Columbus gets one goal, the Red Bulls would need to score four times to advance to the MLS Cup on December 6. That is because Columbus would have a “road goal” that breaks a tie in aggregate if it were tied at three for example after the two games are completed.
Columbus won the opening kickoff and it was played forward to Kei Kamara, who headed it to Ethan Finlay, who controlled it in the box. Finlay found Justin Meram for the goal just nine seconds into the game.
Meram’s goal was the fastest in MLS playoff history and the fastest allowed by the Red Bulls this season.
The game was pretty much even, with the Red Bulls controlling possession 53 percent of the time, but they just couldn’t break through.
In the 85th minute, Columbus got another one when Kei Kamara put in a rebounds off a Luis Robles save to give them the massive 2-0 lead.
For the Red Bulls, this broke a streak of 25 MLS games, including 23 in the regular season and two in the playoffs, that they scored a goal.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said giving up a goal so rapidly, “Pretty incredible that we dig a hole like that nine seconds into the game. Very disappointing. But, actually, our response for the rest of the half and then even our push in the second half was all pretty good. Then, obviously, to give up a goal late, really, now we’ve dug ourselves a hole. But, credit to Columbus for the second to be on top of the game like that and gain a little bit of a lead. Credit to them for protecting their home field and getting a 2-0 lead.
“We’re at half time and we know there’s still a lot to play for,” said Marsch.
On any change in strategy after the first goal, Marsch said, “No, You just wonder how something like that can happen in a big game like this. No, we tried to stick to the game and do all the things that we felt were going to be successful.”
Marsch said of allowing two goals in this match, “The first one is we worked, actually, we talked all week about these kinds of plays and them playing direct to (Kei) Kamara and (Ethan) Finlay running off and we don’t do well enough. Purely don’t do well enough on a play that we talked about and prepared for all week. And then on the second one we let Cedrick (Mabwati) kind of dribble through about three, four guys, a little worried to give up the penalty, but guys didn’t do well enough. All together on the night, we weren’t alert enough, we didn’t cover enough ground, we didn’t make it hard on them, we didn’t win enough loose balls, we didn’t do enough. We let ourselves down.”
Red Bulls Captain and midfielder Dax McCarty said of the match and the early goal, “Yeah, (giving up that goal) is tough. It was embarrassing defending, schoolyard stuff. The second time we played them here in the regular season when they beat us 2-1, they played direct and they played off Kamara and he just flicked on it and they had runners running off it. They do it five, ten seconds into the game and, for some reason, we are surprised and we don’t defend it properly.
“(If) you spot a good team like Columbus a goal going into the series, you are always fighting and clawing to get back into it, so the first half was tough for us. Before the series started, I said that maybe we were a little bit naive and that was a good thing, it turned out to be a bad thing. We showed our inexperience.
“We showed our youth and very nervy start. Obviously, the goal rattled us, you could see that Columbus, (the goal) gave them confidence. The second half was a different story. We played better, we played well, probably could have gotten a goal. If you’re looking at 1-0, that is probably a good result going back to Red Bull Arena, but to give up the second goal, it’s an uphill battle. We are going to stay positive, we didn’t play our best game but we’re still in it right till that second goal, so we’ll go back to Red Bull Arena and try to win it,” said McCarty.