HARRISON, NJ – The New York Red Bulls had anticipated a moment such as the one Sebastian Giovinco served up in the 72nd minute. That is, of course, when the Toronto FC talisman’s brilliant free kick made for the deciding moment of the visitors' 2-1 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In their preparation for Monday night’s match, the Red Bulls had gone over specific details for Giovinco’s free kicks, going so far as to have a presence on the goal line to help minimize their effectiveness. Red Bulls right back Michael Amir Murillo was supposed to be in the Red Bulls' wall and then peel off prior to the kick towards the goal line.
Instead, Murillo broke late and Giovinco’s free kick floated just inches over his desperate leap and into the back of the net, past goalkeeper Luis Robles, who had to recover and cover the near post that Murillo was supposed to have marked.
“It’s no secret, [Giovinco] is pretty good at these things. The way that we had set it up – one thing we were thinking for sure is that we don’t want to get beat on the keeper’s side. If he was going to beat us it has to be over the wall, it has to be to the side of the goal that the wall was defending,” Robles said after the match.
“We wanted to go with a smaller wall so we’d have guys in the box and … then maybe we’d drop Amir – Amir simply dropping, timing it and doing his best to get to the near post. Even with that, I’d have to look at that again. Maybe he was a little late, slow to react. But then, of course, the way this guy is able to put the ball over the wall so clean, so low. That’s the most amazing part.”
That singular moment of Murillo’s late break towards the goal line, in many ways, summarized the night for the Red Bulls. They held an overwhelming edge in possession and chances, yet failed to emerge from Red Bull Arena with a draw, let alone any type of advantage from the first leg.
Early on, the Red Bulls seemed to get bottled up and frustrated. Positioning seemed off when Toronto countered, possession was given away easily in the final third, and that final touch to break down the opposition’s backline simply went missing.
And when Murillo seemingly lost his assignment and then broke too little, too late, it doomed the Red Bulls. That felt especially frustrating after they seemed to scratch and claw back into the game after halftime.
“Well we had a game plan to have Murillo to drop to the line and unfortunately he dropped too late," said RBNY captain Sacha Kljestan. "Otherwise if he’s there, I think he easily heads that one out. It’s the little details that annoy me.”
Reporters followed up by asking Kljestan about Robles', and then the wall's, responsibilities on the free kick.
“It wasn’t Luis’ job, it was Amir’s job to be there,” he said. “I don’t think the wall mattered. I told the wall to jump as high as they could; he still put it over our head. We had a guy who was supposed to be dropping back on the line and able to head that ball back out.
“And the ball entered the goal mid-height. If he’s there, he heads the ball out. It’s unfortunate; these are the details, especially in the playoffs.”