HARRISON, N.J. – The playoffs have been a house of horrors for the New York Red Bulls in recent years, and this year proved to be no different as a 2-1 home loss to the Montreal Impact in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals sent the top seed home with yet another early exit.
Since moving into Red Bull Arena in 2010, the Red Bulls have won hardware and showed consistency, making the playoffs every season. But they have never gotten to the MLS Cup during that stretch and made the conference championship only twice, this despite capturing four Eastern Conference titles in the regular season and two Supporters’ Shields over the past seven years.
For the Red Bulls, Sunday’s loss led to just another early dismissal for a team that has been remarkably consistent for the last two years under head coach Jesse Marsch.
In both matches against Montreal, the Red Bulls held a decided edge in possession as well as chances and shots on goal. But their failure to break down a compact, tight Montreal side led to their crushing postseason exit.
“I felt like we dominated every single statistical category. It's a weird sport that way, where I don't know how many other sports there are where you can dominate so much and not be victorious, but that's what our sport is,” Marsch said in his post-match press conference. “Both games were under control, I thought. Obviously once it gets to be 1-0 here at home and now your aggregate is two and you're chasing the game with the road goal, then that whole thing goes haywire. But yeah, I felt good about our tactics. I felt good about our approach, and we just weren't good enough in the series to capitalize on our advantages.
“It's very disappointing,” the head coach added. “I'll tell you, I'm gutted for my team, my staff, my organization and my fan base, because everybody has poured their hearts into this. You know, I feel a big sense of disappointment in our inability to win the Cup, period. We feel like we've had two great seasons here, but in the end, we're walking away empty-handed. It's a hard feeling to swallow.”
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who missed a penalty kick in the 21st minute, was at a loss for why a team that was as prolific as the Red Bulls this year struggled in the final third during the playoffs. During the regular season, the Red Bulls scored 61 times, second-best in MLS, and boasted the league’s top scorer in Bradley Wright-Phillips. But they looked anemic in front of goal in the postseason, finishing with one goal — from Wright-Phillips on Sunday — in two games.
“We probably dominated in every category except for goals in this series,” Kljestan said, “To come away with one goal in two games is not enough for us. We are typically a very high-scoring team. Chances were there, possession was there, being dangerous was there … just the goals weren’t there.”
The two losses in the playoffs come in stark contrast to their fantastic finish to the regular season when the Red Bulls were unbeaten in 16 straight games in MLS play and 20 across all competitions. But, in the end, there was simply only more heartbreak for a team that has endured plenty of postseason frustration in recent years.
“I can’t really put my finger on it. It’s definitely heartbreaking but over the two games, Montreal got the job done,” Wright-Phillips said. “They were very tough to play, they came with a game plan and they won. Good luck to them.”