You almost felt the life come out of Red Bull Arena in the 50th minute. Working on a two-leg playoff aggregate and down 1-0 after last week’s match in Montreal, the Red Bulls built a too deep of a hole to climb out.
They gave up a goal.
Ignacio Piatti’ 19th tally of the season in the 51st minute, giving the Montreal Impact a 1-0 lead in the eventual 2-1 win over the Red Bulls, meant New York needed three goals for them to move on to the MLS Conference Finals.
Piatti also scored the second Montreal goal late in the match.
“Both games were under control, I thought,” said head coach Jesse Marsch. “Obviously once it gets to be 1-0 here at home and now your aggregate is two and you’re chasing the game with the road goal, then that whole thing goes haywire. But yeah, I felt good about our tactics.”
Ultimately, this match came down to Montreal having a gameplan and sticking to it throughout the 90 minutes. Because they were up 1-0 in the aggregate, they didn’t need to score. Instead, they needed to keep the Red Bulls off the board. No playing with an aggressive offensive was fine for the Canadian squad as they made sure the home team had to fight for every inch on the pitch.
And even though they did, the brilliance of Montreal goalie Evan Bush, who was the last line of defense on from a Red Bull onslaught, shined throughout. A 77th minute goal, the 70th by Bradley Wright-Phillips did liven up the crowd, but that wasn’t enough to move on, as the Impact won 3-1 on aggregate.
The Red Bulls had a chance early on to make this a very different game when Sacha Kljestan was given a penalty kick, but Bush was able to swap it away.
“Well, I’ll tell you this: If it gets scored, it changes the game.,” Marsch said. “That’s the reality. If the penalty gets scored, then everything changes. I still felt like even a man down, we were waiting for Sacha to get back on the field, we still had control of the match. The biggest game-changing moment is their goal because then it means that we’re just chasing in such a big way.”
Also because these were the playoffs, the match was loosely refereed with numerous yellow cards being kept in the pocket, letting the two teams play. It makes better soccer, but at the same time, against a team like Montreal, who plays very physical, it made it more difficult for the home team.
Now, even though the Red Bull season comes to an end, that doesn’t mean this season was a failure. After starting the season slow, they came on were undefeated in 20 matches coming into the series. Marsch was beside himself after the game, wondering what went wrong, but that’s just sports for you. Sometimes you outplay a team and still lose the match.
This is what happened today.
You do have to wonder if the Red Bulls will ever win the MLS Cup. There have been a number of near misses, but after playing so well this year, it’s back to the drawing board for one of the original MLS teams.
“You know, we’re going to have to get over this and figure out a way because we’ve got CONCACAF next year. We’re going to have a good team again next year,” Marsch said. “It’s just so hard when you put so much into it for a calendar season and come up empty. It makes it hard to digest at the moment. So time will heal, but it’s hard for me to measure those things right now.”
What a difference a goal makes.