New York Red Bulls look to finally end struggles vs. Columbus Crew SC

HANOVER, N.J. — They had the greatest regular season in league history, but through the record number of wins and points, the New York Red Bulls' struggles against Columbus Crew SC continued in Sunday's 1-0 loss in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

However, those struggles are about to end, says Alejandro Romero "Kaku" Gamara.

“This is a different game and this is the first time we’ve had all of our guys together in the last game and we’re going to have them again this game," the Argentine midfielder said Tuesday through a translator. "We’re going to go get this win.”

The Supporters’ Shield winners are clearly on the ropes for the second leg at Red Bull Arena Sunday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN, TVAS). But Red Bulls coach Chris Armas insists the first leg result, as well as a loss and a draw vs. Crew SC in the regular season, have not come because of any tactical surprises.

On Sunday, Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter switched to a 4-4-2 setup while resting influential midfielder Federico Higuain for the opening 45 minutes, But the previous time the teams played, Berhalter went with the same look, and kept the Argentine playmaker on the bench, and Crew SC raced out to a 3-0 first-half lead before surviving a second-half onslaught and winning 3-2 at Red Bull Arena. 

“It’s much of what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve seen the two forwards, we game-planned in case they went with two and [Patrick] Mullins, we thought they’d bring in a few guys with fresh legs,” Armas said after training on Tuesday. “We don’t think there were many surprises there. We thought we’d see Higuain at some point and we saw him. When he’s in the game things look a certain way, you have to account for him.”

Armas said there isn’t one thing about Columbus, one attribute that he can say causes the Red Bulls problems. 

“They can play direct, they can try and stretch us in different ways, they certainly can build out of the back and unbalance you that way,” he said. “In the games they win, the games they lose, they always get chances. On the day we did limit much of their big chances, shots and all the statistics. But no real surprises from them.”

Because of their ability to play out of the back, Crew SC handled the Red Bulls vaunted press on Sunday as well as the two regular season games — a 1-1 draw at MAPFRE Stadium and the win at Red Bull Arena. 

“They’re brave,” defender Tim Parker said. “We understand they’re going to be brave when they come to us. We have to obviously look at the film a little bit on some of the opportunities they were able to create and hopefully we’ll find solutions to those issues and we can move forward.”

In addition to different formational looks, Columbus has utilized different personnel each time they’ve played the Red Bulls, which has also made things difficult in the three meetings. 

The Red Bulls, too, have tweaked formations against Crew SC, opting for three central defenders at times in both regular season meetings. And at MAPFRE, Kaku, Parker and Tyler Adams were away on international duty, while Columbus was missing Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp.

In the loss at RBA, Kaku, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kemar Lawrence also didn’t start. 

“Every time we’ve played them, we’ve faced three different lineups. In this game it was just an incredible play by Higuain,” Kaku said.

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