HARRISON, N.J. — In the sullen New York Red Bulls locker room following a 3-1 aggregate loss to Atlanta United Thursday night at Red Bull Arena, it was painfully clear where the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Championship was decided — the 3-0 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Leg 1.
Even with a 1-0 win on Thursday in the second leg, it was too little, too late for the top seed.
“At the end of the day it's not a shame to lose against against Atlanta, but I think it was more possible. They’re good, but I don't think they're really better than us and I think we just lost the series in Atlanta so that's really disappointing,” Red Bulls attacker Daniel Royer said after the match. “I think today we left it all on the field. It's just when you come here with 3-0 aggregate, it’s not easy. If we get a better result in Atlanta, they have to play differently when they come to RBA.”
There was still belief among the Supporters’ Shield winners that they could overcome that deficit, especially with an early goal. But the goal didn’t materialize until deep into second-half stoppage time.
"It's also very very frustrating that we didn't get the two goals that we actually scored in Atlanta and today at RBA, which is really questionable decisions, I think,” said Royer.
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas, though, pointed toward the first leg. While he was criticized about not setting up his team to press high, and gave his reasoning during the week, Armas said his team eased off being aggressive and that ultimately cost them a chance of hosting MLS Cup.
“Pressing, not pressing, we have to maintain our aggressiveness no matter where we are on the field, and you have to make plays,” Armas said. “Because if we just look at the individual plays of the goals, the three really good finishes — but we could have prevented all three of those. Things are tight in the playoffs, and it's about making plays, and we give them credit because they did, and we had to make a few more of those on each end of the field.”
Ultimately, in knockout competitions in 2018, the Red Bulls couldn't find a way to make it to the final, putting a bittersweet taste on the season even with the Supporters' Shield.
“We put so much into it this year, whether it was the Champions League run that we made and we thought we could have possibly come away with that and we hurt ourselves in that Chivas series,” Armas said. “You look at this and we hurt ourselves in the first game of the Atlanta series and then obviously U.S. Open Cup so at the end of the day, we don't come away with any trophies other than Supporters’ Shield.”