Tuesday night was a strange one for me. For the first time since I’d really started following the New York Red Bulls I watched the team bow out of the U.S. Open Cup after only one game (I wasn’t as big of a fan nor as committed back in 2014 when they lost to the New York Cosmos) against the New England Revolution, 3-2.
Not only that but I did so as media, covering the game for TheCup.us, which meant my emotions had to be really muted as I saw the 120 minutes of soccer play out in front of me.
The fun part about being media for this website, New York Sports Nation, is that I still feel like I can be a fan somewhat while acting as media since, well, I write for Red Bulls Nation. That’s why after letting a few days pass and thinking it over I’m almost shocked that my emotions of disgust or anger aren’t higher.
Looking over everything it really isn’t surprising to see the outcome that played out at Montclair State University. Let’s be clear; The Red Bulls had a lot going against them heading into the Fourth Round tournament match against the Revolution.
The team was only three days removed from a second-half collapse in league play to the Philadelphia Union, on the road no less, and missing seven players due to a mix of injuries and international team call ups. Out of that latter group Bradley Wright-Phillips has been injured going on about two months, Aaron Long is dealing with both a hamstring injury and US Men’s National Team camp invite, and Michael Murillo was invited to the Panama National Team preliminary roster camp before the squad starts Gold Cup play.
Compare that to the Revs who last played on June 2nd against the LA Galaxy, albeit on the road, and had over a full week to rest and prepare for the match. Plus in terms of available players the team was only missing two; Carles Gil, the rookie who leads the team in both goals and assists so far this season, due to injury and Zach Herivaux who was called up for the Haiti national team prior to the game.
Revolution head coach Bruce Arena even said as much in his post-game comments to the media.
“I think tonight was challenging for the Red Bulls, having had a game on Saturday in Philadelphia so they have to make decisions on what’s in the best interests of their team,” Arena said after the win. “I think that’s the case with everyone in all cup competitions. Tonight we were the more rested team and that may have been a factor in allowing us to get through the extra 30 minutes with ten players.”
Both of these issues also don’t consider that fact that Major League Soccer teams usually do either bench or not dress some first team starters in the early rounds of the Open Cup and with the Red Bulls that’s always been a factor, especially considering the talent level currently on display New York Red Bulls II in USL Championship. But when a player such as Rece Buckmaster, a recent draft pick with ten II games under his belt, is signed to a short-term loan deal it feels like it was more out of necessity than choice.
So a shifting, tired squad is one thing. What I should have also realized is that second half comebacks are kryptonite this season to Chris Armas’ Red Bulls. Every game the team has lost this year has seen the winning goal come in the last 45 minutes. Even two of the team’s three draws have come off of late-game goals from the opposition.
The game the Bulls had against the Revolution two months ago wasn’t a fluke loss. The team has inconsistent depth and finishing power. That isn’t to say that a team can be perfect 100% of the time and the work players like Amro Tarek, Connor Lade, and Tim Parker have done on the backline has been a game saving at times. But all the pressure can’t be put on them to close out games and it certainly shouldn’t be put on players like Buckmaster and Kyle Duncan.
It’s not surprising then that Teal Bunbury was able to find not one, but two late-game goals off the backs of defensive lapses or poor passing and ability to get his team through to the next round. The guy is third in the Revs history when it comes to Open Cup goals so him finding any sort of opening was going to be dangerous.
The offense needed to keep attacking, keep ball possession, and make meaningful changes. For the most part, especially in the extra time while up a man, the team followed the second part and most of the first part. But New York had very few shots on goal or even shots at all when they had a chance to win the game or send the match into penalties.
Both of Tom Barlow’s shots on the night were on goal including one of the team’s goals. While the team is up a man why wouldn’t the fourth sub be used to bring on Brian White so New York could have both the first and second team’s top goal scorers on the pitch at the same time against an overworked defense trying to bunker down? Armas taking off Alex Muyl for Kaku, who has scored two goals in three games, isn’t the worst move in the world. But as an attacking midfielder, he’s going to be looking to pass ahead against a team that is, once again, hunkering down.
The outcome is frustrating and to be honest, me arm-chair coaching isn’t going to solve anything. Coach Armas has been playing around with formation and that won’t stop after the international break and honestly, part of me hopes BWP stays off the lineup a little more or, when he does come back, plays with a bit more finesse than he had in the early weeks,
Since the team doesn’t have to worry about the Round of 16 now and the International Break means league play is mostly halted for about another two weeks a lot of things can take place. Some injuries can heal, players who aren’t on international teams can train while also taking some time to relax, and staff can take a look at where the squad is at and where it can go from here.
New York returns home on June 28 to take on the Chicago Fire, who were upset in the Open Cup against USL Championship side St. Louis FC. In the meantime, the American soccer scene will be kept entertained by non-MLS league action, the U.S. Open Cup, and the Gold Cup kicks off.