“We knew that a good start was going to be important,” Marsch said afterward. “We knew that Chicago was very good when they scored first and not very good when they concede first. We knew that that was going to be vital and our team was ready."
Marsch wasn’t exaggerating, as the third-seeded Fire were 16-1-3 this season when netting the first goal and 0-10-3 when giving up the opener.
Luckily for the Red Bulls boss, he knew even before the match started that his team was prepared to deliver on the gameplan.
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“I could sense it, I could sense that our team was ready to go,” Marsch said. “I could see the confidence within the group, I could see the clarity. I was excited to see it but I wasn’t surprised.”
Could the players feel the same thing as Marsch?
“Yeah, it was weird, actually,” said Tyler Adams, who assisted on the second goal. “Going out there today, I think the past couple games we’ve done a good job, scored a lot of goals, gave up very little and then today coming out I think that everyone felt this calmness and ease to us playing. It was just fun to be out there, connect passes, create a lot of chances and score goals. It was fun.”
The Red Bulls validated Marsch’s hunch, scoring twice in the first 11 minutes en route to a 4-0 rout of the Fire. Delivering the two tone-setting goals were, fittingly, New York’s two leaders at the offensive end, Bradley Wright-Phillips in the seventh minute and Sacha Kljestan in the 11th.
“Sacha and Brad are massive for our team in the attacking part of the field,” Marsch said. “Their savviness, their ease, their cleverness, their lethal ability to play around the goal, their leadership, in all ways they’ve been the cornerstone of what we do. Obviously they get on the board early and they really get us going. …
“Those guys I think have grown into incredible leaders and incredible men. They certainly are a big piece and they really lead what we do. I’m lucky to have guys like that. It’s a pleasure to coach them. They want it as much as any players I’ve ever seen."
After he and Wright-Phillips were able to rest in the regular-season finale, Kljestan said he felt a similar confidence to what Marsch described coming into the Knockout Round.
“I felt that the last few weeks,” Kljestan said. “Jesse talked a lot on Monday to me when I came in and I was almost like I didn’t want to hear anything from him because I had such a confidence in myself in the last few games I played and the confidence in the group. I think we’ve had good performances in the last few weeks, defensively, offensively, and I didn’t want us to overthink these things. I didn’t want us to put a bunch of pressure on ourselves.
“The confidence throughout the group, we just had this feeling like we were going to come in here and we were going to take care of business.”