HARRISON, N.J.– In a season during which the New York Red Bulls banged an MLS-best 62 goals in 34 regular-season games, they chanced upon an awful time to lose their scoring touch.
After managing just two goals over two games against D.C. United in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, a 93rd minute goal from Anatole Abang was the only offense New York mustered against Columbus Crew SC in an aggregate 2-1 Eastern Conference Championship defeat.
Returning home facing a two-goal deficit, the Red Bulls knew they would need to chip away at the Columbus defense. But Crew SC head coach Greg Berhalter concocted a game plan that successfully stifled New York’s ability to get forward, making a frustrating day at the office.
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“They did a pretty good job defensively,” said midfielder Sacha Kljestan. “Especially in this game, they sat back pretty deep. We thrive off of creating turnovers in the middle of the field and turning those into chances right away, so I think they were in the way they went about things.
"They didn’t play their normal game of playing out the back, playing on a wide-open field. Sitting back, they limited our chances and they did a pretty good job.”
After getting shut out in the away leg, New York were hoping to get more out of their top attacking players. But it was once again a well-disciplined Crew side that denied service to Wright-Phillips by limiting the likes of Sam, Grella, and Kljestan.
The Red Bulls managed a 3-2-0 record against Columbus (2-1-0, regular season; 1-1-0, playoffs), but failed to win the ones that mattered.
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"They did a good job of clogging the middle and not allowing us to get our rhythm of play going," said New York head coach Jesse Marsch. "We showed a little bit of impatience early, but as the first half went on, I thought we grew into the game. Credit to Columbus: they did make it hard on us and it wasn’t easy to find chances.”
With New York's 2015 season ending, the franchise has much to be proud of: the Supporters' Shield, the core, the unified path forward. But once again, heartbreak has befallen this franchise by the narrowest of margins.
“We got a couple of half chances, but as soon as they turned the ball over, you saw their midfielders and defenders just drop back,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles. “They did their best to form a block of eight, and for the most part in the first half they frustrated us. At the end of the day, we were centimeters away; very, very close.”