New York Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer scored two second-half goals to help propel New York to a 3-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC and into the Eastern Conference Championship.
Royer sustained an injury in the weeks leading up to the playoffs, but returned in the team’s regular season finale as a substitute versus Orlando City SC. He started in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Columbus, but only registered one shot before being subbed off in the 62nd minute. He got the start again in the second leg, coming away with two goals and an assist.
“It’s an amazing feeling, I didn’t want to miss the playoffs,” Royer said. “It was tough coming back from getting injured just a couple weeks before the playoffs. I wanted to play against Orlando, just got a couple minutes. I had to find a way back and so far, everything went fine so I can’t complain.”
New York evened the goal aggregate in the 17th minute, as midfielder Sean Davis sent a free kick into the box, which was headed across by Royer and then shot by defender Aaron Long, which took a deflection off of midfielder Alex Muyl and into the back of the net.
Royer’s first goal came in the 73rd minute, as he connected on a strike from the center of the box. Three minutes later, he finished on a strike from outside of the box for his second goal of the game, making the score 3-0 (3-1 aggregate).
“It’s a great feeling to help the team,” Royer said. “At the end, it doesn’t matter who scores. It was a great team performance and that’s what counts, and I think we did a really good job in the 90 minutes today, and I think it’s well deserved.”
New York’s 3-0 performance Sunday night was a bounce-back from their 1-0 loss at Columbus the previous week. Red Bulls Head Coach Chris Armas cited a few different reasons for the difference between weeks.
“On the road, it's hard in our league,” Armas said. “Columbus, on the year, 11 wins at home, they're tough at home. So that in itself makes it tougher. That's a big difference, a starting point. But tactically we pushed Tyler [Adams] higher up the field. When Wil Trapp and Artur -- those guys they're not just good on the ball, they're the outlet all the time for how they break pressure -- break our pressure, and we said we can't let it happen again. But how can we address up the field being aggressive and not get sliced through. So some of it was to really address how we would control spaces, and this game we did a much better job of that. But pushing Tyler higher along with Kaku and pressing the way we did, I thought was the big difference.”
Royer cited the team’s aggressive play at home for their success in the second leg.
“Today we played more aggressive,” Royer said. “It’s a little easier at Red Bull Arena to play the way we want to play, but on the other hand, you have to give them credit, they are a real tactical team. They know what they do, and they’re a good team. I think they did a really good job, especially in Columbus, so it wasn’t that easy for us to be aggressive and create chances. So, it wasn’t the best result, but not the worst result either. We knew when we came back to Red Bull Arena and we play our style that we can still beat them.”
The victory sealed a berth for New York in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, as they will face the second seed in the conference, Atlanta United. This year marked the first time the Red Bulls will play in the Conference Championship since 2015, when they lost 2-1 on aggregate to Columbus. It is their third appearance in the past ten seasons.
Goalkeeper Luis Robles believed this year’s matchup wasn’t a revenge match from 2015, and also believes that the team’s goal this season is to break the franchise’s past postseason struggles.
“For us, this is just the next step in a special group that’s writing their own story,” Robles said. “It’s interesting this week, I try not to read too much media, but I think this week got the better of me. It just seemed like everyone sort of wrote us off, which I understand, and our history hasn’t been that great, but if anything, it’s been a talking point that not only are we going against the Columbus Crew, but we’re going against history. And it’s going to take a special group that’s going to have to find a way to re-write history.”
Atlanta United finished the regular season with a record of 21-7-6, sporting the league’s highest-scoring offense with 70 goals in 34 games. Forward Josef Martinez broke the single-season scoring record with 31 goals, including seven multi-goal performances.
The first leg of the East Conference Championship will take place on Sunday, November 25, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The game will begin at 5 p.m., with it being broadcasted on ESPN and New York Red Bulls Radio. The second leg will be on Thursday, November 29, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, on FS1 and New York Red Bulls Radio.