With a 1-0 loss in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Columbus Crew, the New York Red Bulls need to show mental strength to battle back and take control.
The Red Bulls’ reputation has become the team that roars through the regular season, only to falter in the postseason. After last Sunday’s result in Columbus, a 1-0 win for the Crew, many Red Bulls fans are seeing the same storyline unfold for the ninth straight season.
The Red Bulls have qualified for the playoffs every year since 2010, but haven’t made it to the Eastern Conference Final in that time period.
While the first leg result is frustrating, let’s not pretend like a 1-0 loss is the end of the world. Heading back to Harrison, where the Red Bulls have been a force this season, reversing the first leg result is certainly a doable task.
More from MLS Multiplex
- Javier Milei Elected in Argentina: Potential Impacts on MLS and Signings of Argentine Players
- Orlando City and New York City FC in the Battle for Matías Arezo; Grêmio Enters Negotiations! Who Will Come Out on Top?
- USA, Honduras, Panama, and Canada Close in on a Spot in the 2024 Copa America
- De Gea Turns Down Al-Nassr’s Lucrative Offer: Speculation Points to Possible Reunion with Messi at Inter Miami
- Messi’s Magnetic Impact in the United States
On the road in Ohio, the team generated a few opportunities off set pieces and, if it weren’t for the heroics of Zack Steffen, would be heading back home with one, or maybe two, road goals. There were encouraging signs.
It was an individual moment of brilliance from Federico Higuaín that unlocked Gyasi Zardes in the penalty box, allowing him to slide home the finish to give the Crew the victory. It wasn’t a typical Red Bull playoff performance. They didn’t look timid, and they didn’t look like they weren’t up for the moment.
But the Red Bulls most challenging opponent won’t be the men in yellow.
The team’s mindset and mental focus will be the most important battle the team needs to win on Sunday. Will the team play to will or will they play cautiously in hopes of not making a mistake to secure another season of the Red Bulls curse?
It should be pretty obvious within the first 15-20 minutes of the second leg where the Red Bulls’ focus lies. It’s a given that Gregg Berhalter is going to have the Crew organized defensively, so the Crew aren’t going to beat themselves. The Red Bulls’ frontline is going to need to force the issue and get the crowd involved.
If the team sits back and plays possession in the middle third of the pitch, expect the crowd to get anxious which only benefits Columbus. As such, it is on the defensive midfielders, Tyler Adams and Sean Davis, to pick the passes through the lines and open up the Columbus Crew’s defensive unit.
The reason to remain optimistic about the Red Bulls’ mental strength is that, unlike previous seasons, their mental focus and toughness has already been tested this season. When previous Head Coach Jesse Marsch left for Germany midseason, Chris Armas took over. In Armas’ first game, the team lost a heartbreaking 1-0 Hudson River Derby game when Maxi Moralez scored in the 85th minute. With a first-time head coach coming off an emotional derby loss, how did the team respond?
The Red Bulls earned positive results in nine of their next 10 matches, racking up 23 points in the process.
Watching Red Bull playoff performances in the past has garnered nothing but frustration from fans. However, there is something a little different about this Red Bulls team that should provide hope. They went through tests of adversity this regular season, unlike years past. The team has demonstrated the mental strength in the regular season that they’ll need on Sunday in order to negate the first leg result.
In the postgame press conference, Armas preached positivity, saying that the team has 90 minutes in front of their home fans to get the job done. Unlike in previous years, there is good reason to believe the New York Red Bulls can turn this around.