GIASE: Red Bulls "know there’s still a lot to play for" in home leg vs. Crew SC

If the first goal, which came a record-setting nine seconds into the match, didn’t make things hard enough for the Red Bulls, the one five minutes from the end surely did.
 
So here the Red Bulls sit, certainly not in the position they thought they would be in following a stunning 2-0 defeat to the Columbus Crew before a record crowd of 21,617 Sunday night in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Finals at MAPFRE Stadium.
 
The Red Bulls were hit early and stung again late, and will have to come up with a near-perfect effort in the second leg to reach the MLS Cup Final for the second time in franchise history.
 
“Pretty incredible that we dig a hole like that nine seconds into the game,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “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 from the first 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 (of the series) and we know there’s still a lot to play for.”
 
But the start was a stunner and the Red Bulls never recovered. All week long they talked about how dangerous Crew forward Kei Kamara is at winning headers, and how they needed to keep an eye on him and midfielder Ethan Finlay because their combination play had been so good all season.
 
Then the game started and all was forgotten.
 
Off the opening kickoff the ball was played back to midfielder Wil Trapp, who sent a long ball into the Red Bulls’ end about 10 yards outside the box. Kamara and Red Bulls defender Ronald Zubar went up for the ball, but Kamara got to it first and back-headed it toward goal. Finlay got inside position on Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence on the right side and attempted to control it.
 
As the ball fell to the ground, Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga crashed into Finlay and the ball deflected off Finlay’s leg into the path of midfielder Justin Meram, who had inside position on Red Bulls defender Sal Zizzo. Meram’s shot from the penalty spot slipped inside the right post just nine seconds into the match, a record for postseason play in Major League Soccer.
 
“It was embarrassing defending, schoolyard stuff,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said. “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 it on and they had runners running off it.
 
“They do it five, 10 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.”
 
And that’s just what happened, but the Red Bulls never did get back into the game and were shut out for the first time since May 24 against the Philadelphia Union at Red Bull Arena. Not only didn’t they score a goal, but they only created a handful of near chances and only one or two meaningful ones despite 16 shots. Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark only had to make two saves to earn the shutout.
 
“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,” Marsch said. “We let ourselves down.”
 
The Red Bulls had their best chance to score just four minutes later. Zizzo poked the ball away from the Crew’s Harrison Afful and Zubar fed a pass to Lloyd Sam on the right. Sam cut left in the box and slipped a pass inside to Sacha Kljestan, but his open shot from eight yards was knocked away on a perfectly-timed slide by Kamara.
 
From there the Red Bulls failed to create another really dangerous scoring opportunity while the Crew continued to press the play. The early goal probably had something to do with it, but the Red Bulls were off their game the entire match. Sloppy passing, giveaways and poor first touches, many in their own end of the field, turned into scoring chances for the Crew, but all were wasted.
 
In reality, the 2-0 defeat could have been a lot worse.
 
“Before the series started, I said that maybe we were a little bit naïve, and that was a good thing. It turned out to be a bad thing,” McCarty said. “We showed our inexperience. We showed our youth and (had a) 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 were still in it right till that second goal, so we’ll go back to Red Bull Arena and try to win it.”
 
The Red Bulls were lucky not to be down by more than a goal at the half. In the 34th minute, a bad back pass by Lawrence sent Finlay streaking on a long run along the right side. With only Red Bulls midfielder Felipe back, the break turned into a 3-on-1 when Kamara and Federico Higuain streaked down the middle of the field and into the box. But Felipe played it perfectly, forced Finlay wide, and stripped him of the ball.
 
Ten minutes later, Meram had the ball on the left and cut to his right to get a step on Zizzo. With the far post in sight, Meram curved a ball that seemed like a sure goal, but Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles dove to push it away.
 
“I think our intentions were to get the second goal. At halftime the message was ‘We can get the second goal here,’ ” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We knew they were going to bring pressure, but we also knew there was going to be space open in the counter attack and we wanted that second goal.”
 
That didn’t come until five minutes after Berhalter made an important substitution. In the 80th minute he sent on midfielder Cedrick for Finlay. Five minutes later, Cedrick made the play that could end up making the difference in the series.
 
Miazga made a bad pass, with the ball going straight to Meram, who broke along the left side. Four passes later, the ball landed on the foot of Cedrick inside the box on the right. He cut left around McCarty, then cut back to his right to avoid a tackle by Gonzalo Veron.
 
With Felipe in front of him, Cedrick again cut right and drove a chest-high shot from the corner of the goalie box. Robles made a terrific reaction save with his right hand, but the ball dropped in front of the goal on the left and Kamara swooped in and tapped the ball into the empty net for his third goal of the postseason and first in four games against the Red Bulls this year.
 
“Let’s give Columbus credit, they defended well and they made it tough for us,” McCarty said. “The conditions were tough, the field was very dry and it was tough to move the ball quickly. Some passes were under hit, you could tell, in the attacking third. It was frustrating definitely attacking.
 
“Columbus defended very well, give them some credit for that, but we weren’t as sharp on the day with our passing, with our movement, with the way that we normally attack. The chance creation wasn’t there. We had a decent couple of opportunities, but obviously we are going to have to be more dangerous when we go back to Red Bull Arena.”
 
So the Red Bulls will go back to a sold-out home stadium for the second leg, but without the benefit of a road goal. That will put even greater pressure on the defense to post a shutout and hope the offense can get at least two goals to force extra time.
 
“It is a strange feeling not to score a goal. I think in the regular season that only happened twice,” Robles said. “With that said, congratulations to Columbus. They won the first half (of the series), but they should absolutely expect us to bring it in the second half.
 
“We have a very high standard around here and tonight we didn’t live up to it. ... We get to go back to Red Bull Arena where we have fared well all season. I have a lot of confidence in this group even though we are in a bit of a hole right now. My confidence in us to overcome that is quite high still.”

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