It wasn’t pretty, but that won’t matter much to the Red Bulls and their fans.
In a game that wasn’t for purists, New York managed to slog their way to a 1-0 first-leg victory over D.C. United this past Sunday. In the 7nd minute, Dax McCarty gave the Red Bulls the advantage they’ll take into the home portion of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday, Nov. 8.
“We know the heart of the team of D.C. United. We know that they’re going to make you earn every inch at all moments of the game, and that’s what the game was like [Sunday],” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said in his post-match press conference.
“We managed to get one, get a big lead and now set ourselves up to go back home and push the game there.”
Despite controlling much of the play for the majority of the match, the Red Bulls were unable to cash in until McCarty came back to haunt his old team late in the second half. Not known for his aerial ability, the midfielder managed to head home Sacha Kljestan’s inch-perfect free kick into the back of the net to give New York a vital edge heading into second encounter.
It was fitting that McCarty was the goal-scorer, the man that many consider to be the heart and soul of the Red Bulls.
“[McCarty is] our captain,” Red Bulls goalie Luis Robles said after the match. “At the end of the day, we feed off of the way he plays. For him to score a goal, the way he did, in such a big moment is just a cherry on top of an incredible season that he’s had.”
With the advantage of the away goal, the Red Bulls look prime to finish off D.C. United at Red Bull Arena. Marsch, however, believes the series is far from over.
“We’re not taking anything for granted; it’s the playoffs,” he said. “D.C. is going to come to Red Bull Arena fighting for dear life. If you have one slip-up all of the sudden, the game can be in balance there. With the away goal rules, we’re far from out of the woods here. We’ve gotten to halftime, we’ve gotten a lead, but we certainly have a long way to go.”
Injury Sidelines Perrinelle
The Red Bulls will have to win MLS Cup without center back Damien Perrinelle after the Frenchman was forced to leave last Sunday’s first leg with a season-ending knee injury.
Perrinelle has formed a solid partnership with Matt Miazga in the heart of the Red Bulls’ defense and losing the veteran at such a critical period could prove costly going forward.
Marsch said he has faith in Ronald Zubar, Perrinelle’s replacement, and believes that his team will find a way to get over this.
“It’s time for everyone else to step up,” he said Tuesday. “Whenever you have a guy [get injured], you first feel for him. Then everybody has got to be ready to now cover for the job that’s been done and make sure the next guy that steps in is ready to go.”
A LOOK AHEAD: RED BULLS vs. D.C. UNITED SUNDAY
|RED BULLS||D.C. UNITED|
|18-10-6 (60 POINTS)||RECORD||15-13-6 (51 POINTS)|
|W-3* (INCLUDES REGULAR SEASON)
|12-3-2 (HOME)||HOME/ROAD RECORD||4-10-3 (AWAY)|
|1.82||GOALS PER GAME||1.26|
|1.26||GOALS ALLOWED PER GAME||1.32|
|BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS (17)||TOP GOAL SCORER||CHRIS ROLFE (11)|
|SACHA KLJESTAN (14)||ASSISTS||FABIAN ESPINDOLA (9)|
While the Supporters’ Shield winners enter the second leg with a vital away goal – away goals are the first tiebreaker should the two teams be knotted after 180 minutes – the Red Bulls aren’t going to alter the way they play just because they have the lead. Expect more of the same style from the opening kickoff.
“We’re not going in with a mindset of protecting a lead,” Marsch said to the media Wednesday. “We’re going in it to be aggressive and expand on the lead and finish the game.”
The onus will be on D.C. United to come out and attack since they’re the team that’s behind, but they’ll have to do better than they did in the first leg. D.C. United failed to have any shots on goal in the first leg. According to MLSSoccer.com, United’s pass completion percentage (54.5 percent) was the lowest percentage this season.
Red Bull Arena has also been a house of horrors for the away side. In two contests this season, the Red Bulls have outscored D.C. United, 5-0.
Nevertheless, Marsch still considers D.C. an extremely dangerous opponent.
“D.C. is going to come in here and throw everything they have,” he said. “These games usually set up to have wild endings and moments. We’ll be ready for them.”