The Red Bulls beat themselves just as much as FC Cincinnati did on Sunday night.
In the first leg of their best-of-three first-round playoff series in the Queen City, major mistakes relegated New York to a 3-0 defeat against the MLS Supporter’s Shield winners, putting their backs up against the wall ahead of Saturday’s second leg at Red Bull Arena. One more loss spells the end of their season.
“I’d say eliminating unnecessary mistakes [is key],” Red Bulls manager Troy Lesesne said when evaluating how his team can turn things around. “That doesn’t just mean the things that happen on the goals. So much so, the details of what our match plan was. I think our match plan was there. We didn’t execute it fully. So that’s what going to get to in preparation going into the next match because not a lot is going to change.
“I think there’s going to be some small adjustments. It’s kind of a unique situation. It’s the same opponent in back-to-back matches. ”
In this format put forth by Major League Soccer, a loss is a loss all the same — meaning a 3-0 result isn’t as damning as it would normally be under the usual aggregate format that’s popular amongst the game around the world. But the Red Bulls’ self-inflicted wounds derailed a night that saw the Eastn’s No. 8 seed ask an abundance of questions of No. 1 Cincinnati.
Luquinhas should have put the Red Bulls up in the 12th minute when he was alone for a chance at the center of the Cincinnati box. But he skied his first-touch attempt well over the bar.
In the 23rd minute, New York’s defense lost Alvaro Barreal — the Cincinnati midfielder who recorded a brace and provided fits for the Red Bulls all night — following a give-and-go down the left wing that played him in at a tough angle at the left post. Yet he still managed to finish at the opposite post past keeper Carlos Coronel.
Twelve minutes later, defender Andres Reyes’ headed backpass from just inside his own half fell woefully short of Coronel — Cincinnati forward Dominique Badji met the ball at the same time as a sliding Coronel 30 yards away from his goal as the deflection fell to Luciano Acosta. A lofted ball from 50 yards out bounced into the back of the net and New York’s deficit was doubled.
Another Reyes turnover outside the Red Bulls’ box in the 89th minute led to Barreal’s second of the night sealing the 3-0 victory for the hosts.
“I think they dropped Barreal back a little deeper which kind of tweaked our pressing,” midfielder Peter Stroud said. “It’s always difficult when the team drops a fullback a little deeper. That means we have to set our line at a different spot and then there’s also a lot more ground to cover to get pressure on the ball, and that’s how we want to play obviously.
“So it took time to figure that out for sure. And they were kind of hurting us down that side. But I think we figured it out in the second half, and I think we gave them a run for their money here. We had a couple more shots than in the second half. We just can’t start like this on Saturday.”
Saturday will be the Red Bulls’ fourth game in 14 days, a tight schedule that Lesesne admitted was “a component” to contend with. But tired or not, two consecutive wins are a must against the best team in MLS to keep the lights on at Red Bull Arena this season.
It’s nothing new for a team that had to win four of its last five matches just to get into the playoffs before defeating Charlotte FC 5-2 on Oct. 25 in the Eastern Conference Wild Card match just to get to the first round.
“We know what’s on the line. It’s a World Cup final for us on Saturday,” Stroud said. “But we’ve been in these kinds of situations before. I feel like the whole back half of the season it was either win or go home. So I think the boys showed they can handle it. So it’s about demonstrating that again when the time comes on Saturday. It’s an interesting format, obviously. But you know, I think it benefits us and we get to have another crack at this and keep our hopes alive, which is what we want to do.”