ATLANTA — The odds are now stacked against the New York Red Bulls.
With a 3-0 defeat on Sunday to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday, New York finds itself in the position of having to overcome a three-goal deficit after the first leg of a two-match playoff series, something no team has done since MLS instituted the format. (Two teams have previously come back from three-goal deficits at other points in a two-leg tie.)
“It is very difficult, near impossible, but we are just going to continue to believe that we are going to do what it takes to get it done,” said New York goalkeeper Luis Robles. “We just have to go for it, but I think at this point our back are against the wall and there’s nothing left. We just empty the tank and do all we can for 90 minutes.”
The Red Bulls need at least a 3-0 win to push the series to extra time. There is some precedent of Atlanta losing by a three-goal margin this season. The Five Stripes did so in their first and last regular season games this season, against the Houston Dynamo and Toronto FC, respectively.
“It is going to be difficult,” said RBNY manager Chris Armas, who remained optimistic. “I really believe that is going to come. We were down 3-0 at home against Columbus earlier in the year and with five more minutes we would have tied that thing up, but we only had 45 minutes and we did it. With 90 minutes, we are going to go after it.”
Fans of the other football team that calls Mercedes-Benz Stadium home know that no matter how highly the forecasting models have their team favored, a comeback is almost always possible. The Five Stripes players also aren’t taking a big lead for granted.
“It’s going to be challenging,” said captain Michael Parkhurst. “We know nothing is over yet. We’ve put ourselves in a good spot, and that’s it. It’s up to us to make sure that we go out there and take advantage of the 90 minutes that we put in today [and] not let that go to waste.”
When asked if he had thought about the fact New York had beaten Columbus by three goals recently, Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Marino said he hadn’t, joking through a translator that he “didn’t want to be so pessimistic on such a happy afternoon.”
But he is also keenly aware that things can change quickly.
“We know the Red Bulls are a very good team and they are capable of scoring three goals at home,” Martino said. “The only thing we know that we are satisfied with this win, but we have to get ready for the next game.”
Armas says his team will try not to focus on the overall lead they have to overcome and instead take things “one goal at a time,” a sentiment his players echoed.
“When you look at the Columbus game, for us to get a goal right off the bat, it changed the complexion of the game,” said Robles. “It is going to be tough, right? Because we can’t let them score. We just have to go for it, but I think at this point our back are against the wall and there’s nothing left.
The strategy is much simpler for Atlanta, which will focus on keeping a clean sheet first and then looking for any opportunity to grab an away goal.
“They are a good team you know,” said Atlanta midfielder Julian Gressel.“Nothing is over yet. The key is to bring the same mentality and go into it as if it is 0-0.”
Gressel was then asked if they would have the champagne ready for a celebration Thursday night.
“No, because we still have 90 minutes to play and then another 90, hopefully," he said. "After that, we will get to that.”