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Major League Soccer

Crew Take Commanding Lead Against Red Bulls

ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers four takeaways from the first leg of Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference finals. Sunday's second will require a Herculean effort from the New York Red Bulls.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 23, 2015
11:10 AM

THE NEW YORK RED BULLS may have won the 2015 Supporters’ Shield, but the team is now on the verge of elimination after being thoroughly outplayed by the Columbus Crew in a 2-0 loss at MAPFRE Stadium. The home team scored early and New York’s stars were never able to get it back into the game.

The Red Bulls now will need a flawless performance both offensively and defensively to advance—but that looks unlikely given how the Crew is playing.

Berhalter is doing a fantastic job 

So far the 2015 playoffs have shown that Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter can prepare his team for any obstacle in his team’s path. While the Crew the No. 2 seed, many predicted third-seeded Montreal, seemingly unstoppable since acquiring Didier Drobga, to advance in their semifinal matchup. Yet Berhalter’s team found a way to contain Drogba, and eliminate Montreal in the process.

The Red Bulls were the top scoring team in MLS this season but Crew SC neutralized wingers Lloyd Sam, Mike Grella, and Gonzalo Veron. As a result, striker Bradley Wright-Phillips was given little service and was taken out of the game. Adding insult to injury, Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani thoroughly outplayed Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan in the center of the park.

After Justin Merram’s goal nine seconds into the game, the Red Bulls responded well, with a flurry of chances over the next few minutes. But Columbus held strong, showed confidence and mental toughness, and found its way back into the game. From there it never looked back.

Berhalter is truly coming into his own right now as one of the best American coaches in the game. That’s only part of the story, though, as he’s also the team's technical director, and he’s been effective in that role, too. The midseason acquisitions of Harrison Afful and Cedrick Mabwati addressed the team’s needs, and they’re a big reason why it’s in the driver’s seat to head to MLS Cup.

Off night from Dax

Coming into the series Dax McCarty was one of the key players to watch. The Florida native has been one of the best central midfielders in the league and was a huge reason for New York’s success in the regular season.

But McCarty had his worst game of the season on Sunday, and it couldn’t have come at a less opportune time. Normally McCarty controls the midfield and is able to connect well with Kljestan in the middle and with the wingers. That didn’t happen last night, and McCarty’s passing was surprisingly ineffective.

If New York is to have any chance at a comeback, he’ll have to be exponentially better in Harrison.

Early goal set tone, exposed Zubar

When Damien Perrinelle went down with a serious injury against D.C. United, many fans who followed the team closely feared Ronald Zubar was not going to be an adequate replacement for the league’s best regular-season team. Ten seconds into Sunday’s game, those fears proved well founded.

Justin Meram’s early goal was not entirely Zubar’s fault, but the Frenchman clearly could have done much better as Kei Kamara headed the ball on to Ethan Finlay, who then combined with Meram for the finish.

New York responded well for the following few minutes, but it clearly was not able to impose its will and play the game it wanted. Moving into the second leg, the Red Bulls now will have to open the game up from the start—and that means the backline will be under more stress.

And yes, Zubar will have to be better.

Clark’s early save was a turning point

Looking back at this game, people will be talking about many individual moments: Finlay’s assist, Meram’s goal, Mabwati’s individual effort to create the second goal, and Michael Parkhurst’s leadership in Columbus' backline.

Those were all surely important, but there was also one moment early in the game when Steve Clark stepped up and made a huge save on Kljestan that might go a long way toward clinching the series. With away goals so key, a big save from a home-team keeper is almost more important than a goal from the home team.

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