Red Bulls admit they need to be sharper to overturn deficit vs. Toronto FC

HANOVER, N.J. – Coming off a thorough 4-0 win over the Chicago Fire to kickstart their Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs campaign, the New York Red Bulls came out flat and downright lethargic in their next match, a 2-1 home loss to Toronto FC. Now in a hole, the Red Bulls are hoping to bring some more energy to pitch this Sunday for the return leg at BMO Field (3 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes; TSN1/4, TVAS in Canada).

The slow start contributed mightily to New York going down in the eighth minute at Red Bull Arena, the first goal by TFC in a disheartening loss for the Red Bulls. It took until first-half stoppage time for the Red Bulls to find an answer via a Daniel Royer penalty kick, the equalizer perhaps undeserved as the Red Bulls appeared disjointed and dazed for much of the game’s opening frame.

Given the fact that the team is built on playing in transition and moving the ball quickly, not to mention their counter-press, the sluggish first half played right into Toronto's hands. The visitors came to defend, then counter, and the Red Bulls' inept movement helped Toronto emerge with a very important first-leg win.

“I think, listen, when you get smacked with a goal early, it tests a lot of your resiliency and resolve. It took a little while for us to bounce back from that,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said following training on Thursday.

“Then going 1-1 was good. And actually in the second half, a lot of good things happened. We were a little bit unlucky not to find a way to get that second goal. We make one really bad mistake in the second half and it cost us. That’s how playoffs are – there are moments, little situations."

Marsch predicted that “Sunday will be tight again” and he expects Toronto to come out in a similar defensive mindset so as to hold onto their advantage.

While there has been some talk this week among the players about starting stronger and with more energy – midfielder Felipe said they are working on getting “on the same page” as a team – the majority of the work comes down to execution. 

When they aren’t doing those things, they are susceptible to teams willing to throw bodies behind the ball and defend. Toronto hit the Red Bulls on the counterattack and eventually won the game with a Sebastian Giovinco free kick.

“I think we’re definitely going to have to come out with a little more intensity in Toronto because obviously, we’re chasing the game and need to score two goals to get through. So we’re definitely going to come out with a little bit of fire but I think they know that, they’re expecting that. It’s nothing new,” defender Aaron Long said.