Red Bulls Need A Difference-Maker

Tuesday’s ousting from the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League was a disappointment for the New York Red Bulls, a 0-0 result seeing Chivas de Guadalajara through to the tournament’s final.

But while there are positives, many of them in fact from this team’s tournament run, one glaring need emerged for the Red Bulls from their two legs in the semifinal.

It is clear that this Red Bulls team needs a true difference maker in the final third if they hope for anything more than another early exit from the playoffs.

[Watch Red Bulls-Impact Saturday on MSG & MSG GO.]

The core of this team is strong. The roster is young, exciting and talented. And while precious little is known about how Alejandro ‘Kaku’ Gamarra will integrate into the Starting XI, this team is going to need someone special for moments like this.

They didn’t have this difference maker on the field Tuesday night. They also haven’t had this type of marquee player during the postseason the past couple of years.

In the playoffs over the past three years under coach Jesse Marsch, the Red Bulls have typically controlled games with their unique pressing and counter-pressing. This is true, especially at home. Also true is that New York has struggled to come up with goals in key moments and as they have bogged down as teams pack in the box during the second leg, often defending a first leg lead.

Jesse Marsch holds his post-game press conference following the Red Bulls' loss to Chivas in the Concacaf Champions League Semifinals.

What New York needs is someone magical who can pull the strings of the midfield and create something when nothing is there. This is especially true against a team that has parked their proverbial bus in front of goal.

This doesn’t mean that Gamarra can’t be that player, but whether it is a forward or another wide player or even someone to sit behind ‘Kaku’ and carry the ball forward in transition, the Red Bulls need that one special player. That one player who is a difference maker.

In the playoffs and in scenarios like Tuesday night in the Champions League semifinal, the aforementioned difference makers are crucial. The Columbus Crew had two in 2015 in midfielder Federico Higuaín and striker Kei Kamara, players who played like stars and shone in knocking out the Red Bulls. Last year in the playoffs, it was Toronto FC’s trifecta of high-priced Designated Players who did in New York.

The Red Bulls, built under the past three years to be young and without a big name star, don’t have that true world-class player to carry them on their backs through a playoff run. Roster balance is a good thing, but too much can leave a roster without players who can rise to the occasion.

Luis Robles looks to regroup and steady his club as he reacts after falling to Chivas in the Concacaf Champions League Semifinals.

Such is the case with this team. A team that, when Red Bull Arena opened in 2010, was built on stars such as Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel and Tim Cahill, has now seen the pendulum swing the opposite direction.

In this modern era of MLS, it is the teams that have one or two legitimate global stars – not just stars on their team but true league-wide brand names – that have lifted MLS Cup in late November. Whether it is a Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Clint Dempsey or Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley, these teams have players who are proven in clutch moments.

The Red Bulls, built on the philosophy that the whole is greater than the sum of their parts, don’t have such a true impact player. And that may be why this team hasn’t had a playoff run while generating great regular season success over the past three years.

In special moments, special players are needed. New York is that one player away from being able to break down teams in moments like the playoffs, in moments like Tuesday night against Chivas.

Consistency is great during a regular season and in 2015 it led to a Supporters’ Shield and a year later to a regular season conference title. But in two legs when something special is needed, when someone is needed to break down a team committed to defending and frustrating a pressing style, that is when a star player is needed.

[Watch Red Bulls-Impact Saturday on MSG & MSG GO.]