(Bradley Wright-Phillips of the Red Bulls gaining possession against heavy defense – Photo by Mike Lawrence)
The New York Red Bulls got a late goal on Sunday to win the second leg of the Eastern Conference Finals 1-0, but it was not enough as the Columbus Crew won it 2-1 on aggregate.
Columbus won the first leg 2-0 at home a week ago Sunday and knew they had to play a defensive game this week at Red Bull Arena.
The Crew came close to getting a goal in the opening minute, which would have given them a three-goal lead on the aggregate.
They did not get a goal of their own, but controlled play and limited the Red Bulls’ chances throughout the game.
The Red Bulls broke through in the 93rd minute when Anatole Abang headed in a feed from Lloyd Sam to make it 1-0 and 2-1 Columbus in the aggregate.
The Red Bulls had a golden chance to tie the aggregate and force a 30-minute overtime, as Bradley Wright-Phillips headed one off the goal post.
Wright-Phillips said of his shot after the game, “For a second, it looked like it was going. It’s irrelevant. It didn’t and we’re out.”
Red Bulls’ Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of Columbus stifling their attack, “Yeah, I mean, two teams that know each other really well. They did a good job of clogging the middle and not allowing us to get our rhythm of play going. We showed a little bit of impatience early, and as the first half went on, I thought we grew into the game. You know, credit to Columbus, they made it hard on us and it wasn’t easy to find chances. We made a really good push at the end of the game, it’s almost – it’s painfully unbelievable how that game ends.
“But I’m proud of my team, proud of our guys, proud to be their coach. You know, we talked at the beginning of the year – one of the first conversations I had with them was about emptying the tank at the highest level, and, you know, I couldn’t have asked for more from this group of guys and I know how bad they wanted it. It hurts – the locker room is in pain right now, just because it means so much to them,” said Marsch.
Marsch said of the game plan over both legs of the Eastern Finals, “You know, it was interesting because neither team, I think, really played their classic style of play. You know, Columbus didn’t often get into their rhythm of play and you know, for us, you know they were doing things to counteract what we like to do and we were doing things to counteract what they like to do, so it was often a stalemate. You know, obviously, some of the mistakes we made in Columbus were the ones that really cost us. But overall, I thought our guys laid it all there in both games, and, you know, I couldn’t have asked for more from them.”
On if he would have changed anything, Marsch said, “No, no. I think it was always going to come down to ‘how now can we win battles on the field and how can we do what we do more effectively than them trying to do what they do,’ and again for me, the series in a lot of ways is a stalemate of styles and attempts to, you know, commit – each team’s trying to commit to how they play but also trying to mitigate how the other team plays, and we’re in direct contrast with some of the things we do. So for me, the tactics of the game, the commitment of the players from each team, the way of going after the game and trying to be, you know, the identity of who we wanted to be but also deal with who they are – pretty high-level game that, even though it wasn’t always the prettiest, it was both teams trying hard to figure out ways to gain an edge. That’s how I look at it.”
Red Bulls captain and midfielder Dax McCarty said of the game, “I would just like to start off by saying I apologize to our fans. They were fantastic all season – the ones that stuck by us. I really appreciate them supporting us when it was a tough time and they didn’t have to come back, but they did, and I think they were brilliant, and they deserve more. I think, for the most part, we just didn’t play well, this entire series.”
McCarty said of the late push until the end, “Of course, we’re never going to give up, no matter what happens. Obviously, we needed to push the game from the beginning and I think we did that, but like I said, Columbus defended well and they made it really tough on us. Columbus didn’t play the way they normally play. They played very direct, they played a lot of long balls, they didn’t try to play out like they normally do…for the most part, they had us in check.”
McCarty said of the playoffs being successful, “I think if you look at it as a whole, you could probably say that. For me, it feels like a failure just because the MLS Cup was our main goal and we did so much great work in the season to set ourselves up to host the MLS Cup and to let ourselves down in the conference final for the second year in a row is disappointing and the playoffs feel like a failure.”