GIASE: Lessons learned from yellow cards past as Red Bulls will "go out and play the way they normally do"

Since the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals series against D.C. United three weeks ago, the media focus has been on the yellow cards defenders Matt Miazga and Ronald Zubar picked up in the game.
 
Would they get another in the second leg and be suspended for the first leg of the conference finals against either Montreal’s Didier Drogba or the Crew’s Kei Kamara? And when they got through the second leg clean and the next opponent became the Crew, the talk the past two weeks during the international break has been avoiding the referee’s book again on Sunday so they don’t miss the crucial second leg next weekend.
 
But nobody has mentioned the yellow cards issued to Bradley Wright-Phillips in the first leg and Sacha Kljestan in the second. You could argue that the loss of one or both of the Red Bulls’ two best offensive players in the second leg would be more of a blow to the team than either defender.
 
“We haven’t talked about it too much just because we know what the scenario is,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “We went through it already when we played the second leg against D.C. The big challenge, especially for our center backs, is when you play against a guy like Kamara you have to be physical, but you have to be cautious.
 
“All four of them are aware of the fact that they can’t afford to pick up another yellow, but we want them to go out and play the way they normally do.”
 
For Wright-Phillips, it’s a painful moment of déjà vu. Last season he picked up a yellow card in the 89th minute of the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against D.C. United, but nobody paid attention because the Red Bulls held on to beat their rivals in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
 
But in the first leg of the conference finals against the New England Revolution, Wright-Phillips foolishly interfered with goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth as he attempted to throw the ball to a teammate. He was issued a yellow card and had to sit out the crucial second leg. After the game, Wright-Phillips said it was a rule he was unaware of.
 
“Thanks for bringing it up. Old nightmares,” Wright-Phillips said following training on Friday. “Obviously I’ve got to be wiser. Going into the game I’ve got to play like I normally do, but in the back of my mind I’ll be careful.
 
“It was very tough (last year). It’s something I haven’t really gotten over now. And not because I missed the game, but how stupid it was just not knowing. It haunts me, so I’ll do everything not to miss this one.”
 
Wright-Phillips only picked up two yellow cards in the regular season, but the one he received in the first leg of the D.C. United series in Washington in the 88th minute for time wasting will be on his mind Sunday against the Crew.
 
“I was aware of what happened last year,” Marsch said. “This year, everything we do in the preparation, part of it is communicating which guys are on yellow suspension and accumulation throughout the year and then even which guys from the other team are, because if they have a center back on their team or a defensive midfielder it’s important for our guys know that they need to be aggressive against that guy because he doesn’t want to pick up a yellow. We communicate that weekly.”
 
For the Crew, only defender Harrison Afful is in the same boat, but defender Gaston Sauro will miss the match due to yellow-card accumulation. If everyone stays clean in the first leg, only an ejection in the second leg would cause a player to sit out the MLS Cup Final.
 
Wright-Phillips is looking forward to a series against a team that won’t be as defensive-minded as D.C. United. He wasn’t much of a factor in the D.C. series until he scored the goal two minutes into second-half stoppage time in the second leg at Red Bull Arena to ensure advancement.
 
“With the D.C. game, we knew what it would be about,” Wright-Phillips said. “Teams like that, for me, when I play against them, I feel like I’m just in a fight. Columbus, they’re a team that likes to play. I’ll probably get a little more room, hopefully. If not, I’ll do the same as I did against D.C. I’ll battle away and just try and bring other people into the game, or get a scrappy goal like I did last time.
 
“We’re playing the same teams (from the regular season). We know what their strength are, and their weaknesses. Obviously they mean a lot more because of the Cup, but I don’t change my game.”
 
Marsch agrees. The Red Bulls have pushed the game and the pace the entire season. The majority of the time it has paid off, so Marsch believes they should go at the Crew in the away leg even more than the team did against D.C. United because he feels there will be more opportunities to score goals.
 
“We want to be aggressive, that’s for sure. We’re going after goals,” Marsch said. “We know that, especially with the away goal rule, that the more you can score on the road the better. Your position will stand once you get back home. We led the league this year in road goals. We know how to go on the road and score. We know how to be aggressive, and we’re going to do that again.”
 
As for the weather, the Red Bulls are expecting to play in their first really cold game of the year. There’s a chance of rain today, and temperatures are expected to be in the mid 30s tomorrow.
 
“It could be a factor,” Marsch said. “I’m hearing now it’s going to be cold, maybe a little windy. If that’s the case then obviously it makes for a little bit of an uglier game. But it’s playoffs. That’s this time of year. You expect bad weather. You expect tough conditions. You can’t have any excuses. You’ve got to step on the field and be ready to compete at every second, and we’ll be ready to do that.”

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