HARRISON, N.J.—The New York Red Bulls appeared to have the storybook ending to a fantastic season already written, but reality brought an abrupt end on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd (25,219) at home. Columbus Crew SC advanced to the 2015 MLS Cup with a 2-1 aggregate victory in the Eastern Conference Championship.
New York's 1-0 victory at Red Bull Arena wasn't enough to overcome a 2-0 shutout by Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium one week ago.
For the second straight season, New York – which won the 2015 Supporters' Shield after leading the regular-season table – has been eliminated in the Eastern Conference Championship.
Needing two goals and a clean sheet to overturn their first-leg deficit, New York was hoping to get out on the front foot, but it was Columbus who nearly added to their lead early … again. After Justin Meram scored just nine seconds into the previous leg, Crew SC nearly found the back of then net in the second minute, this time through Ethan Finlay.
Robles was called into action for two more massive saves, both on Columbus' star striker, Kei Kamara. In the 8th minute, Harrison Afful’s curling pass up the wing found Kamara's foot, but a shot to the near post was parried into touch.
The Sierra Leone international was denied once more after a terrific bit of skill in the 38th minute. A spinning trap-and-shoot maneuver sent a powerful shot that looked destined for the back of the net, but Robles got low and put a hand on the goal bound effort.
Despite being down on aggregate, the Red Bulls provided precious little in the attack for the majority of the match. Though they out-possessed Columbus, New York rarely tested goalkeeper Steve Clark, as they struggled to find the incisive pass to unlock a stingy Crew SC defense.
The Red Bulls had to wait until the 73rd minute for their first clear-cut opportunity to cut into the deficit, as Sacha Kljestan uncorked an effort from 20 yards out, but Clark did well to get both hands on the low, driving effort.
The tides began to turn as RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch turned to his bench, bringing in Anatole Abang and Gonzalo Veron during the latter stages of the match. The duo allowed New York to pour on the pressure, but a composed Columbus side stayed organized, thwarting every New York attacking move.
New York gave the crowd something to cheer about in stoppage time as Abang managed to head past Clark and cut the deficit in half, setting up the home side to nearly accomplish the impossible with seconds remaining: Bradley Wright-Phillips's header looked to beat Clark in the fifth added minute, but the post denied an aggregate-equalizing goal, and New York’s heartbreak was complete.
Columbus return home to host the Portland Timbers on December 6 (4pm ET, ESPN | UniMas | TSN | RDS). While Portland makes their MLS Cup debut, Crew SC will be looking to raise their second ever championship trophy – the first coming against the Red Bulls in 2008.