Welcome to another edition of "Discuss," in which MLSsoccer.com editors debate the topics of the moment in MLS. Our question this time: Should New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch have stuck with Ryan Meara in the U.S. Open Cup final (after starting him through the whole tournament) or put out regular No. 1 Luis Robles?
It's a final. Ride your best horse.
I admire Jesse Marsch's decision, and Ryan Meara is a good goalkeeper left hanging twice by his backline. That said, when the Cup means that much, I'd start the iron man.
I'm sympathetic to Marsch on this one. The heart says play Meara, the guy who brought you all the way to the final despite never getting a shot in any other competition. The ruthless calculation is to play Robles, the ironman who's been among the best 'keepers in MLS over the past five years. Sadly for the Red Bulls, champions (Bill Belichick, Gregg Popovich... Peter Vermes) are born out of cold pragmatism, not feel-good stories. I can't fault him for playing Meara, but the better of two tough choices would've been to start Robles.
My colleagues have made all the good arguments here already, but I want to state for the record that this is a plainly obvious decision in hindsight, something Marsch didn't get the benefit of coming into the final. Personally, I think if you're a team with a star-crossed history trying to win a competition for the first time, you can't leave anything to chance, but if the Red Bulls had won with Meara, we would have applauded the romance of giving the backup his chance to shine.
Would Robles have saved either of those goals? As hot as the takes were on that subject last night, I'm still firmly in the 'No' camp. Meara acquitted himself well and has proven himself a capable goalkeeper – you don't start as a rookie 'keeper in this league by accident and Meara was plenty qualified to start last night. There's also the bigger picture to consider here. If Jesse Marsch says, 'You're our Open Cup 'keeper' and then goes back on his word and pulls Meara in place of Robles in the final, win or loss, what message does that send to the locker room?
Borg: Meara, but...
Meara was Jesse Marsch’s U.S. Open Cup goalkeeper in 2017 and for that reason the head coach was in the right to finish the tournament with him. But here's the real question: Why was Meara his U.S. Open Cup goalkeeper? Why do teams feel the need to spare their starting goalkeeper in U.S. Open Cup matches?
I get that it’s nice to give some reps to your reserve players, but that’s what your USL team is for. If your club is that hungry for trophies (as the Red Bulls said they were), you should be using your No. 1 goalkeeper in every one of the elimination matches because of magnified stakes attached to every goal conceded or prevented.
For a team that fielded the core of its starting lineup in every single USOC match this year — Aaron Long, Tyler Adams, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan and Felipe — the Red Bulls should’ve included Robles, who also happens to be the MLS iron man. If there’s a position on the field that can manage the extra midweek load, it’s goalkeeper.