After a big win against Atlanta United in their MLS is Back Tournament opener, the New York Red Bulls fell flat against Columbus Crew SC on Thursday, losing 2-0 and failing to register a shot on target.
While it was disappointing to see the listless attacking performance, RBNY head coach Chris Armas said after the match that Columbus deserve credit for showcasing the strides they made over the offseason, but added that he felt some of use of soccer's dark arts was employed that thwarted his team's rhythm in the second half.
"Columbus did a good job of killing the game off. Probably pushing the limits too far in my opinion there," Armas said. "It seemed like a lot of time-wasting and all that. But regardless, we'll have to figure out how to maximize minutes at the end of the game to be sharper. But when you're trying to establish a rhythm, it's not so easy on nights like this, with lots of fouls, water breaks, time-wasting, guys going down -- not too easy. But that's part of it, so we'll have to keep improving in that area and maturing as a team."
Armas also defended his decision to not employ any squad rotation, as he fielded an identical starting XI to the one he did against Atlanta. The coach said that he felt all his starters were adequately recovered given the fitness the team has been working on, and that he didn't think it played a role in Thursday's result.
"I think the guys were recovered," he said. "Five days for the pro players that we have, the fitness levels that we have, that certainly in my opinion — that was not the difference tonight. We had a bunch of guys that played in Game 1 that played limited minutes. We'll look back, I won't second-guess that one. I think we let ourselves down in other ways. And Columbus is a good team and we have to understand that. In real games, margins are thing. We'll be better for it. We'll look hard at it and get better as we go."
Looking ahead to RBNY's next Group E match against FC Cincinnati on July 22 (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN in Canada), Armas said he and the players are looking forward to the challenge, with the knowledge that there's still plenty to play for as it pertains to their hopes of advancing to the Knockout Stage.
"The approach is very much like a normal one," Armas said. "We’re early on in the year. Our sharpness, our understanding of exactly how we want to play is going to get better. We come out of this game, take some positives, look hard at where we can improve and throw everything at Cincinnati. When you talk just about the tournament, we’re very much alive and we’ll be ready for the next game. We know Cincinnati are capable and they have a lot to play for with a big win and we’re excited to prepare for that one."
FC Cincinnati are coming off a dreadful expansion season and got demolished by the Crew in their tournament opener, but will be riding good vibes coming into the match after topping Atlanta United earlier on Thursday. Red Bulls captain Sean Davis said that's something his team will have to keep in mind as they prepare for that match, adding that the positives they can take from the win over Atlanta leave him confident that they can put Thursday's defeat behind them and get back to form.
"The first thing is we have to take a hard look at this game and understand what went right, what went wrong and honestly assess our performance," Davis said. "From there we have to turn the page quickly. They’re [Cincinnati] a team that got three points today. They’re going to do everything they can to get a result. We have to move on quickly but we have to take lessons from this game. First of all, when I think about the Atlanta game, we created some big chances. Maybe they weren’t the most quantity but they were big chances.
"Our finishing could’ve been sharper but we put ourselves in good spots," he added. "Tonight we didn’t create enough until late in the game. That’s disappointing. We need to put pressure on them from an offensive standpoint and that’s something we’re going to have to take a look at. In terms of our fitness level, every team is on an even playing field. There are no excuses."