MLS Cup Eastern Conference Finals Second Leg Preview: NY Red Bulls vs. Atlanta United

November 29, 2018 - 2:05 pm

HARRISON, N.J. (WFAN) -- The New York Red Bulls have some significant work to do if they want to avoid yet another postseason disappointment.

The Supporters Shield winners enter Thursday night’s crucial second leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Finals already down 3-0 to Atlanta United after a disastrous first leg on November 25.

Chris Armas’ team won their last five games of the season to clinch the shield, which is given to the team with the best regular season record in MLS. Atlanta finished two points behind NYRB in the standings, but the second-year expansion team is now just 90 minutes away from advancing to MLS Cup at the expense of the Red Bulls, who haven't been to the final since 2008 and have never won it all.

The first leg was a perfect illustration of why Mercedes-Benz Stadium has become arguably the toughest place to play in American soccer. 70,016 people were on hand to watch Atlanta take New York apart, with the vast majority of those supporters making quite a bit of noise.

Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s squad looked dangerous from the opening kickoff. MLS’ leading scorer Josef Martínez continued his record-breaking year when he took advantage of some poor defending to open the scoring in the 32nd minute.

The Red Bulls almost had a vital away goal in the early second half, but Bradley Wright-Phillips’s effort was disallowed after a video review showed that Red Bull player Alex Muyl had interfered with the play from an offside position in front of the Atlanta goalkeeper.

Atlanta responded to the near-equalizer by scoring a second goal just a few minutes later through Franco Escobar. New York’s job in the second leg was made much tougher when Hector Villalba found the net in stoppage time only moments before the final whistle.

For the Red Bulls to have a chance to advance they will need to score three times and stop a high-powered Atlanta offense from scoring at all. Any goal scored on Thursday night by United will be an away goal, which would be the tiebreaker should the matchup finish tied after two legs. If Atlanta manages an away goal then New York would have to score five times on the night. For example, a 4-1 victory for New York would not be enough to even force extra time due to the away goals tiebreaker. 

The Red Bulls can at least look forward to returning home to play in front of the fans at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. Still, they need a miracle. Wright-Phillips, Tyler Adams, and Alejandro
Kaku” Romero have had no problem creating and scoring goals this season, but keeping Atlanta scoreless is a tough task.

Martínez scored a record 31 goals this season, and the Red Bulls couldn’t stop him in the first leg. If the Venezuelan forward is allotted time and space on the ball he will continue to make New York’s defenders pay. Those same defenders also have to face Miguel Almirón, who would probably be considered the best player in the league if Martínez hadn't had such an incredible campaign. 

Armas knows that his team is up against it with little-to-no room for error.

"We have been saying one game at a time and now we just have to prepare a little bit differently, be really aggressive and understand that it has to be disciplined and calculated," said Armas. "We prepare a game-plan that makes sense and usually you don’t know exactly what you need to do, so that helps a little bit …  I do expect our fans and supporters to come out, to come with hope and belief and energy that we can feed off of because I can promise you that, the whistle blows and we are going after it. We’ll need it, we’ll need all the hope we can get.”

The Red Bulls try to save their season at 7:30 PM on Thursday night at Red Bull Arena.