HARRISON, N.J.—Another year, and MLS Cup still eludes the New York Red Bulls. It's been a recurring theme that has come to define the club since the franchise's 1996 inception as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
After lifting the Supporters’ Shield – their second in three seasons – provided a chance to host their first MLS Cup final, but the well-organized Columbus Crew SC proved too much to overcome in Sunday's home leg, leaving the Red Bulls despondent. Sunday's 1-0 victory left them on the wrong end of a 2-1 aggregate-goal loss in the 2015 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Championship.
“I couldn’t have asked more from this group of guys, and I know how bad they wanted it,” said head coach Jesse Marsch. “That locker room is in pain right now because it means so much to them.”
As improbable as it might have seemed at the start of the season, New York managed to fight their way back to the conference championship stage, the scene of their demise just a year prior. Yet the script remained the same: falling just short after coming so agonizingly close.
So soon after the loss, it was difficult for many within the Red Bulls locker room to offer perspective, but there remained some acknowledgement of the season-long success.
“I think if you look at the season as a whole, it’s going to be considered a success,” said midfielder and captain Dax McCarty. “Obviously with a new system, new coaches, a lot of new players, nobody really expected too much from us and I thought we gave a pretty good account of ourselves the whole year.”
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan shared a similar sentiment: “I think if at the beginning of the season somebody would’ve told us, ‘You guys are going to be the highest scoring team in the league, win a Supporters’ Shield and get to the Conference Finals and get yourselves close to MLS Cup,’ I think everybody at Red Bull would’ve said, ‘Ok, that’s a good season. We’ll take that.’”
Just a goal short of forcing extra time, the Red Bulls could only look back and lament what could have been. Goalkeeper Luis Robles was quick to point out the second goal conceded in Columbus, identifying it as the turning point of the series.
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“To give up that goal late, it makes the task all that more difficult,” he said. “If we could have come back [to Red Bull Arena] 1-0, who knows? Maybe it’s a completely different game, but we can’t play the ‘What if?’ game. We have to own up to our mistakes and the way that we played.”
Despite winning Sunday's second leg, their season is over; the ever-elusive MLS Cup, a goal unattained. For all the positives to be drawn from a successful 2015 season, the measuring stick for excellence hasn't shifted.
“To fail in the playoffs again, in the two biggest games, we just weren’t good enough,” McCarty said. “I’m never going to beat around the bush and lie and say that we deserved to advance when we didn’t. In the two biggest games of the season, [we] – as a team – failed.”