HANOVER, N.J. – To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it will not be déjà vu all over again for the New York Red Bulls this year.
Like last year, the Red Bulls are down in a two-legged playoff series, currently behind to the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Last year, they were down 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC after the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship
While New York churned out a 1-0 win, that series ended with the Red Bulls out of the playoffs a game short of the MLS Cup final, this despite winning the Supporters' Shield in 2015.
Now facing elimination following a 1-0 loss at the Impact this past Sunday, the Red Bulls again find themselves in the position of being a higher seed on the brink of elimination with the return leg coming on Sunday (4 pm ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes | TSN5, RDS in Canada).
“I feel like we’re still in an advantageous position. Now is it a big task? Yeah, of course it is. But it’s the playoffs. It’s not supposed to be easy, it’s never supposed to be easy,” head coach Jesse Marsch said. “You have to earn everything so we’ll be ready for that.”
Captain Dax McCarty said that if the Red Bulls are to advance, they need “to be better in the attacking third.” In Sunday’s loss they had a decided edge in possession as well as leading in shots on target. They had several early opportunities to take the lead but failed to capitalize on their strong start, giving the Impact a lifeline.
But even as the Red Bulls controlled much of the game, Montreal’s pace on the counterattack exposed New York’s high press several times in the first leg. Marsch admitted that Montreal’s style can work against some of his team’s “weaknesses and then we can be exposed in certain ways.”
“The lessons that we can learn is that you are never out of it. You have to keep a clean sheet at the back. Obviously an away goal changes the whole complexion of the tie. It’s a little bit different because we were down two in that Columbus series coming home and now we’re only down one,” McCarty said.
“A lot of similarities. Patience is the key, making sure that you don’t concede a silly goal on the counterattack. Obviously that is going to be their game plan, the game is going to look very similar to the first game.”
The task is a bit easier than last year when they went into Red Bull Arena down two goals after the opening leg. But Montreal is a team that is comfortable bunkering down and staying compact, a side that has earned a reputation as being very difficult to break down.
“I just think we have to take things away from last year to learn and this year do better. And I think being down again this year, we can show that we grow from last year, we understand and know what it takes to get to MLS Cup,” midfielder Felipe said. “I think we were just unfortunate last game that we couldn’t get a goal. With the way we played, the way we’ve been game by game, I think [there is the] probability to go in and do whatever we can to win this game.”