Seeing as I’m willing to watch pretty much any MLS match, and I got my fill of Week 1 games, one might think I would meet the home opener for the New York Red Bulls as they faced the Portland Timbers with decorum and aplomb.
One would be wrong.
I raced to the game and to my seat because I was ready for the new season. I had already seen the team advance to the Quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League in a rather decisive fashion at Red Bull Arena. How was the team going to go from that to MLS action and back again so quickly? The answer had been there all along, hiding in plain sight.
BABY YOU’RE A FIREWORK: Starting the season with a real bang, the fireworks and flashpots were out and firing as the starting lineup took the field. The players were all in red, the color kit that was a long time coming.
In his MLS debut, midfielder Alejandro Romero Gamarra could be spied just taking it all in. Indeed, several of the members of the starting lineup were making their MLS/RBNY/First Team debut. So okay– fans aren’t going to see Bradley-Wright Phillips or Aaron Long much, if at all.
Who are these guys in their places? Didn’t the club just sign Kyle Duncan, and they’re playing him already? Aren’t they facing the Timbers, the team that has 2017’s MVP, Diego Valeri? Is this even going to work?
GO ‘HEAD, HAITIAN MESSI: Well… when Derrick Etienne Jr. pulls off something like this, how can you not call him that?
He was a force to be reckoned with the entire first half, although it didn’t quite yield the desired result. Many chances and shots, but no goals. No reason to worry, though. Now is the time to hammer out the perfect pairs up top, and his match might be Danny Royer. It remains to be seen.
WELL, HE WAS JUST SEVENTEEN: No. Really. Starting midfielder Ben Mines, just seventeen years old and wearing #17 on his back, made his MLS debut and opened his goal-scoring account for the season… at 17 minutes, 17 seconds. He played for the full 90 minutes, getting knocked around by the opposition and earning himself a yellow card in the 72′ for time wasting. I daresay he ended up having the full MLS experience in one night. And he took home the ball he scored with to give to his mom. How could I cheer for another?
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL: Once Wright-Phillips was subbed on for Etienne and Tyler Adams for Romero Gamarra, there was a noticeable shift forward in the game. Wright-Phillips was able to convert a corner from defender Connor Lade with a header into the net in the 77th minute. And after several frustrating attempts in a 5-minute span, 23-year-old forward Carlos Rivas scores not one, but TWO goals (80′, assisted by Vincent Bezecourt & 90’+, assisted by Lade).
This month has roared in like a lion for the team, between the start of league play and the work that has to go into the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. But it sure seems like the team is ready to take it all on.
**PERSONAL NEWS** In case you’re one of the 5 people I haven’t told yet, I slipped on some ice recently and fractured my ankle. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Red Bull Communications Department and the Arena security staff for helping me get around and not have to miss out on the 1st match of the season.
CONCACAF Champions League, Round of 16
Leg 1: 1-1 Draw
Leg 2: 2-0 Win (3-1 agg.)
Before MLS kicked off for the 2018 season, the New York Red Bulls began their campaign in the CONCACAF Champions League with a trip to Costa Rica to face the Honduran club Olimpia in the first leg of the Round of 16.
That 1st leg, played in an empty stadium at a neutral location, was not particularly a stand-out match. Forward Daniel Royer scored in the 31st minute, only to have the score equalized by Brayan Moya in the 79th minute with a penalty kick following a hard tackle by defender Aurelien Collin. While the Away Goal Rule was in place, which weighted RBNY’s goal a little more, going into the 2nd leg with a draw allowed for the drama to play out at Red Bull Arena.
And play out it did.
Adeus meu amigo: While rumors had swirled in recent weeks, it was only when the gameday roster of 18 was announced that it became clear Brazilian midfielder Felipe Martins was no longer part of the team. It was not until 2 days later that the trade was made official, sending Felipe to the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for defender Tim Parker (and a bunch of GAM TAM THANK YOU MA’AM that I’m not going to bother to explain). Like the other recent departures from RBNY, there’s sadness among fans, but the general consensus is that it was time to move on and we wish him well… until he comes back to face the Red Bulls.
Visa- not quite everywhere you want to be: Moya, as well as 2 other players for CD Olimpia, were prevented from traveling to Harrison for the 2nd leg due to issues with their visas. I don’t know who should have taken steps to ensure that all players would be able to travel, but it should have been handled.
Willkommen: Marc Rzatkowski (shh-KOFF-skee), on loan from Red Bull Salzburg, made the starting XI in the midfield. And he shined. I loved every second he was on the ball. Unlike other players who have joined the squad in recent seasons, Rzatkowski’s integration was seamless and immediate.
“He was fantastic, I mean his work ethic, the thing that you’ll see with him, the best of any player I’ve ever seen is with the ball and any movement within the game he comes back and thinks about closing down space and second balls, he’s incredible.”
–Coach Jesse Marsch
Dos a Cero: Following a well-moving but scoreless first half, striker Bradley Wright-Phillips opened his account for 2018 competition with a laser shot in the 54th minute that the Olimpia goalkeeper was sure was going to go wide. The pace was markedly faster after the goal from both sides.
Midfielder and RBNY Academy product Sean Davis doubled the lead with a goal in the 64th minute.
If anyone was worried about what was going to happen to the Red Bulls midfield following the exit of the likes of Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, and now Felipe… it seems the kids are alright (Davis, RZA, and Tyler Adams).
#HolaKaku: Alejandro Romero Gamarra, who couldn’t travel to Costa Rica and instead played with Red Bulls II in the final match of the Mobile Mini Sun Cup, made his RBA debut in the 64th minute. He replaced Alex Muyl, who deserved the rest following 4 total shots at ridiculous angles.
Kaku was credited with 2 shots and a respectable 81.3% passing accuracy. His slightly off-frame shot in the 84th minute was inches away from instant legendary status. It will have to wait for another day.
The Red Bulls face Club Tijuana in the quarterfinals and will be back at Red Bull Arena on the 13th, but will also open their MLS season against the Portland Timbers this weekend.
You don’t know how much I’ve missed you. It’s driven me near madness. I’ve tried to find something to take your place, but nothing does it quite like you.
That’s right folks: The New York Red Bulls are back for another season! (What did you think I meant?)
Before RBNY gets back to the business of the regular season, CONCACAF Champions League, and the Lamar Hunt Open Cup, they are spending some time in the Arizona desert participating in the Mobile Mini Sun Cup. First up: tournament hosts Phoenix Rising.
Playing in the Phoenix Rising FC Soccer Complex, this USL club is most notably led by player and part-owner Didier Drogba, of Chelsea and Montreal Impact fame. But they do not rest on the laurels of one man, which I respect.
FIRST TIME JITTERS: Now that the scrimmages are done, this is the first game that really tested the team in their most realistic form. And while no one in the starting lineup was new to the Red & White, things were shaky, to say the least. The dreaded “own goal” goblin tapped defender Aurelien Collin in the 7th minute to put PHX ahead.
Many opportunities for forwards Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer to score went unfinished throughout the game and phenom Tyler Adams was continually shut down by the Rising defense. And I can only assume Alex Muyl is trying to make himself bigger when on the attack, but it still seems to be so much arm flailing and scrambling.
I know I’ve said that about Muyl before; however, I also say when he’s switched on, he’s a force to be reckoned with. With his header off of defender Kemar Lawrence‘s cross, he leveled the game in the 37th minute.
NEW PARTNERS: It takes some getting used to when the roster sees so many changes, for players and fans alike. A number of players have left Red Bull New York. Several other players have come in, hoping to make their own place on the team. They’re young, they’re fast, and they’re ready to take control. And still, others have yet to make their way onto the pitch… the fans are not-so-patiently waiting…
TAKING CHARGE: With the departure of the 2nd team captain in as many years, there has been much speculation as to who will be wearing the armband for the 2018 season. Tonight the honor went to Danny Royer, but I don’t think that’s where it will stay. Following the speculation that Kemar Lawrence would be heading overseas this year, he has stated that he is ready to take on more of a leadership role with the team, although that doesn’t necessarily mean the role of team captain. Others have suggested Wright-Phillips, goalkeeper Luis Robles, and midfielders Felipe and Sean Davis. I do have a preference… but I’m not telling.
GETTING CREATIVE: One of the hallmarks of RBNY’s play is the use of trick set pieces, even though their effectiveness had fallen away last season. And the first attempt at one in the 48th minute was a misfire that resulted in Davis just going for goal only for the ball to be caught by PHX goalkeeper Zac Lubin.
A SATISFYING END: Following the second goal from PHX in the 71st minute, the Red Bulls really looked as though they were going to disappoint this girl. But suddenly, French international Vincent Bezecourt nailed a shot in the 91st minute to level the game again. So maybe they’d end in a draw… not terribly pleasing. That was when the referee called a foul against PHX just outside of the 18′ in the 92nd minute. I rolled my eyes when I saw 4 players behind the ball, thinking to myself ‘oh, these things never work…’
Except it did. Felipe rolled the ball to his left and Panamanian international Fidel Escobar launched it into the back of the net. That’s the kind of climax you can really enjoy.
I’d say I could use a cigarette, but I don’t smoke. Thanks for the early Valentine’s Day gift, guys. Let’s do this every chance we get, okay?
The only constant is change. We’re all intellectually aware of this, and yet we are jarred by the actual changes when they happen. During the MLS offseason, there are all sorts of opportunities for players to enter, exit, and trade one kit for another. While we know that players are commodities to be tossed around by the powers that be, it is important to remember that they are also parts of families and communities that are affected.
The New York Red Bulls family has said goodbye to free agents Dilly Duka and Sal Zizzo. Perhaps we’ll see them again on another field. Maybe they’ll have to move on to entirely new adventures.
Even though RBNY was spared in the expansion draft for newcomers LAFC, the re-entry drafts claimed Mike Grella and Gonzalo Verón for Columbus Crew and DC United, respectively. Grella, who had been out nearly this entire past season with a leg injury, is a New Yorker through and through, with a house near his parents a la “Everybody Loves Raymond”. He was claimed by the Colorado Rapids and then flipped to Columbus, neither of which are close to Glen Cove. As for supersub Veron, he scored 8 goals in all competitions this season and became a darling of the fans. This exit was unexpected to say the least (at this time, no official deal has been settled with DC, so there’s a chance Gonzi will be elsewhere by March 2018).
Defenders Gideon Baah and Damien Perrinelle both have come to the end of their contracts. While I held out hope for both of them, it would seem there is no room for either of them since international slots are limited on MLS rosters. Anyone who has read, like, two of my articles knows that I will sorely miss seeing my favorite French footballer, and to be honest I never got a chance to really get into Baah as a player. (The rumor that Damien would come back to the RBNY staff doesn’t have as much traction as it used to, especially since he moved out of his NYC apartment. I can’t give up, though.)
Speaking of rumors, the buzz about captain Sacha Kljestan is only getting louder, with sources saying deals are being discussed with LAFC, Minnesota United, and Orlando City. Legit negotiations, or just wagging the dog? Remains to be seen. I just think it would be strange for RBNY to shuffle off their captain 2 years in a row.
Starting to think Kljestan staying would be the ultimate troll move.
Players leaving also means players arriving. RBNY II players Stefano Bonomo and Florian Valot have ‘leveled up’ to the first team. Fans are also not-so-patiently waiting for the announcement of Argentinian midfielder Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra, who has reportedly transferred from CA Huracan in Argentina for an eye-popping $6.25M. (As of Jan 1, the transfer has been blocked by a complaint from Kaku’s former agent. Story is still developing.) And there is still plenty of room on the roster for more trades to happen. We may see a player or two, previously jeered while wearing some other color, come to be lauded in the red* and white. It will be March before we know it.
*The new RBNY kit was unveiled on New Year’s Day, and it is indeed predominantly red. Fans have wanted a red jersey for several years, and the response is generally positive.
UPDATE: Sources confirm the trade of Sacha Kljestan to Orlando City SC. In exchange, RBNY acquires attacker Carlos Rivas and defender Tommy Redding. Rivas seems to me to be a good addition for sake of depth, but a young defender is what RBNY really needs. I will miss my fellow Seton Hall Pirate Sacha, but I wish him all the best… until he faces the Red Bulls next season.
Featured image of Gonzalo Verón courtesy: Noah K. Murray/ NY Post
CONCACAF Champions League
1st leg: Feb 20-22 (away)
2nd leg: Feb 27- Mar 1 (home)
Pop quiz: when I say “Champions League” you say…?
Not surprising. UEFA Champions League is huge, with some of the most famous clubs in the world and tons of television coverage. But in this hemisphere, we have our own Champions League competition.
You didn’t know? Be honest with you, until last year, neither did I.
By virtue of being the top MLS Eastern Conference team to not win the Supporter’s Shield in 2016 (just go with me on this), the New York Red Bulls were placed in Pot 1 for the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League draw on December 18th. Other MLS teams participating in the tournament are Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids, and Toronto FC.
The draw could be seen live on Univision Deportes as well as on YouTube. I watched on YouTube as Eddie Johnson and Carlos Pavon rolled the fishbowls of balls and drew them carefully before handing them to Philippe Moggio, Secretary General of the Confederation.
First, the teams in Pot 1 were matched at random to a spot in the bracket for the Round of 16. Then the teams in Pot 2 were matched the same way to get paired up with the Pot 1 teams.
Still with me? Good.
The only sticking point for the draw was that no two teams from the same country could face each other in this opening round.
First, RBNY was placed in bracket spot A3. Then the team to be placed in B3 was named: Club Deportivo Olimpia, un club Hondureño con una historia muy grande en Los Campeones de CONCACAF.*
Sorry. Soccer Spanish is all I’ve got.
If the Wikipedia page I dashed to for my crack research is to be believed, Olimpia has won this tournament twice, 1972 and 1988. They are based in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and enjoy a wide fan base, beyond the town they call home.
RBNY, on the other hand, have only qualified 3 of the last 4 years and before that… nothing, really. In fact, since the creation of MLS, only 2 American teams have won the Champions League (DC United in 1998 and LA Galaxy in 2000). This tournament has belonged by and large to Mexican teams, such as current back-to-back winners Pachuca.
So, now that I’ve dropped a little learning on you, and while you may enjoy the many…many… m a n y competitions available, perhaps you’ll check out the tournament, starting in mid-February. As I like to say, soccer never sleeps.
The game was terrible and wonderful, just as the 1st leg had been. There were fouls and fights. The 2nd half saw the team without their captain. Goal scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips answered the call and put the ball in the net (54′, assisted by Danny Royer). But RBNY needed one more to advance past the Reds, and they just couldn’t find it. As dominant as they had been, and as much of a fight as they had shown (in more ways than one), RBNY just couldn’t continue their run.
Winning, Drawing, and Losing all at once is probably the most Metro thing that could have happened.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad run, was it? The team faltered– a lot– during the regular season. Injuries destroyed their depth. The team lacked cohesiveness and determination too often to make a difference when it counted. So, to turn it around by the end of the regular season and put up as much of a fight as they did… I’m still disappointed, of course. But it could have been worse.
Now what? Part of the reason I haven’t been able to finish this article is that business seems so unfinished. I couldn’t attend the final Media Day of the season. And now come the rumors. Who will leave? Who will stay? Do the players even know where they stand with the team?
Right out of the gate came the report that both Los Angeles-based teams are showing interest in Sacha Kljestan for next season. Phenom Tyler Adams is getting much more attention since his Senior Team USMNT debut in a friendly against Portugal, to the point where some are wondering if he’ll get picked up somewhere in Europe before the new season begins. Can Mike Grella and Aurelien Collin make their comebacks following injury? And most recently came the whispers that Gideon Baah and Damien Perrinelle are not going to have their contracts renewed. (However: this news is quickly followed by the rumor that Perrinelle will stay on as a scout for the club. This would not surprise me in the least. I’ve spoken to the French international and it is clear that soccer is in his blood. A front office position like that is an amazing opportunity to stay in the game.)
And don’t cry for me, Red Bulls nation. I’m going to dig into the rumors as much as I can, as well as cover the USSF presidential election coming up in February. I’ll be freezing my butt off in historic Red Bull Arena before you know it.
So we won the Supporter’s Shield, now what? The logical progression, as the best team in the regular season, would be the MLS Cup. However, recent history has proved this a challenge with only 2 teams winning the MLS double in its modern form (since 2003 when the format was changed Source). In this Toronto FC season, records have fallen and new depths have been explored and Toronto FC have shown on Monday night that they aim to win.
Of a wide spectrum of emotions familiar to football fans across the globe, this game had them all. Through the highs and the lows our viewing party buzzed with passion for our team. Despite some long periods of time spent in eerie silence punctuated by fist banging fits of anger, many of us insisted at the end that we were confident in our team all along.
I approached the game with a certain apprehension, knowing that the New York Red Bulls at the Red Bull Arena might just be our toughest game of the playoffs.
A dodgy penalty, a standard Sebastian Giovinco free kick, a kick in the pubis, some dodgy Red Bulls fans whom Greg Vanney eloquently put in their place (what a dad) and 90+ 5 high altitude minutes later we emerged victorious and on top of the world, a feeling we have grown accustomed to. What looked the start of a rocky second half seemed to stabilize after some minor adjustments and Toronto FC kept calm and won the game.
2-1 is a pretty good scoreline to come home to. 2 away goals and the win, NYRB have to score more goals at BMO Field than the home team; a rare feat for wary travelers this year. And the city is ready for them. We have not appreciated the treatment of our players in the States these past few weeks and we are ready to bring the 12th man to the game on Sunday.
If I had to call to mind one image that summed up the match besides the obvious big moments, it would be something like this: Nick Hagglund (possibly in a cape), leaping 10 feet into the air in some sort of karate kick of a clearance. Insert a written sound effect of your choice to indicate great physical prowess and that about sums up our Super Nicky. That’s not to say that Drew Moor doesn’t get the job done, but there was something incredible about watching Nicky come off the bench to accomplish feats of heroism to save us from uncertain death.
It is that type of depth that will take Toronto FC far in this playoff campaign. Hagglund, who has featured in just 3 games for TFC since mid-May after being sidelined twice by injury, was exactly what TFC needed to see the game off. With vigor and the pluck that makes him well loved by Toronto and by former Toronto FC captain and current TSN commentator Steve Caldwell, he put in a performance when we needed him to keep us ahead in New Jersey.
We will likely require another player to step up on Sunday with the possibility of Victor Vazquez missing out (though not if he has anything to do with it) and the team with the greatest depth in the history of the MLS will be tested once again. Who will be our next hero? A stadium will wait with baited breath for all to be revealed.
“They say that these are not the best of times,
They’re the only times I’ve ever known.” –Billy Joel, “Summer, Highland Falls”
I dare you to fight me on my musical choices.
Originally, I was tasked with writing a “Know Your Enemy” style of article before the first leg. But I couldn’t do it. Because there’s not much I have to say: Toronto FC are the beasts of the East. Supporter Shield winners with a record number of points in League history. They have Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco. TFC is top seed, coming into the playoffs well rested and ready to go.
But the New York Red Bulls have Luis Robles, Danny Royer, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. And they have the momentum of defeating the Chicago Fire in the knockout round. Head coach Jesse Marsch has said RBNY is “going on a run”. The first leg was the true test of that statement.
I’m not gonna lie: I was nervous for the team. The second I got into my car to make the drive to Red Bull Arena, I was hit with a wave of nausea, and I’m not talking about the fumes on the Turnpike. RBNY were able to prove that they can avoid the mental errors and the devastating injuries that plagued them during the regular season. They really looked like a team that is just having fun together and not wearing themselves out mentally. They’re really in the driver’s seat, especially at home in the the first leg.
And when I think about it that way, holding TFC to two goals is pretty impressive.
And also really freaking horrible.
Let me tell you a little something about myself: I tell people that I’m not the least bit competitive. It’s a bold face lie. I’m actually super competitive. I don’t even like admitting it about myself. So losing hurts, and I’m not even the one out there letting myself get pinged in the face with a ball or stomped with some $300 cleats.
You can see the rundown of the game anywhere. You can watch Victor Vazquez nail the rebound after Luis Robles punched away the initial shot from Jozy Altidore:
It felt like I was watching a different team than I had seen in the past month or so. One that didn’t know how to face down a terrible opponent. A team that didn’t want the responsibility of dominating possession and demanding rewards for it. Players who panicked in the face of danger. Men who were ripped apart and had no one to blame but themselves (or each other). A subdued locker room like I had never seen before.
And “I can only stand apart and sympathize”. I’ve been to press conferences following losses during the season. This was nothing like those times. “We didn’t look like ourselves,” head coach Jesse Marsch said following the game. This was echoed by Captain Sacha Kljestan: “I don’t think we played like us.”
Can RBNY right the ship? They have to remind themselves of who they are, more than any fan or writer could ever do. They have to play like they have nothing to lose. They have to give themselves and each other the tools and the guidance to face TFC head on. They need to be a team. And I hope one of them sees this and embraces it. Because I have no problem being a PollyAnna about RBNY: that’s why I’m here. Maybe they need to take that kind of unbridled positivity to heart. Because the whole point of the playoffs is for an underdog to look at an opponent with a winning record and laugh it away in a brief series… just ask the Houston Astros.
“For we are always what our situations hand us… It’s either sadness or euphoria.”
PS: Let me take a minute to comment on the vitriol directed towards TFC players Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Both are referred to as “Metro Products”, having been part of the MetroStars when they and MLS were younger. They were booed Every. Time. They. Touched. The. Ball. They were treated similarly in Atlanta on Decision Day. They will likely be treated that way if they continue in the Playoffs.
They will definitely be treated that way when they return to hostile fields across America next season. They know why it’s happening. They can handle it. And I condone it. I just wonder how long it will last or what, if anything, it will take to quiet it. And I draw the line at cursing… but that’s just my own sensibilities at play.
A collaboration by official reporters of MLSFemale @MLSFemale
With Major League Soccer, there is no greater prize than the MLS Cup. Twelve teams, 6 from each conference, are vying for the chance to lift the ultimate prize of the league’s 22nd season. Here’s a quick rundown from our MLSFemale squad:
Toronto FC: AND NOW YOU’RE GUNNA BELIEVE US, we’ve gone and won the league! Suffice it to say the city of Toronto is over the moon with our accomplishments this season and we are looking forward to what we hope is a great playoff run. Michael Bradley succinctly put our season in summation by saying “…we went after every game from 1 to 34 like it was the only thing that mattered.” (source)
I think they can be proud that they never really wavered on that goal and it paid off. As a member of the Kings in the North, one of the official protectors of the Supporters’ Shield during it’s stay in Toronto, I look forward to spending some time up close and personal with it.
Our playoff future looks bright; one is left hoping that we take that same winning mentality into the playoffs and consider every opponent and every game with care. Finishing off the regular season at Atlanta was also a good test for us to end on. Fresh to the league, they were the one team I felt we hadn’t had a proper chance to sound out back in April. Having seen their house and how they feel about our players (your hate makes them strong, our love makes them unstoppable), I now feel confident that Toronto FC has the arsenal to make a successful playoff run. And as Giovinco has shown, this team is ready for whatever is thrown at them. So bring on our second (okay fine, third) go at it, we’re here to win it all!
*NYCFC: Not gonna lie: this team gets measurably better every year. With head coach Patrick Vieira, the Pigeons have made it to their 1st MLS post season in style, with a bye for the knockout round. Legend David Villa and newcomer Jack Harrison, as well as the rest of the squad, are going to face their first opponents well rested and ready for a run. Just how far can the boys in blue go their first time out?
Chicago Fire: Nine months ago Fire fans were excited for the club’s new signings– with Dax McCarty, Juninho, Niko, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, certainly the Men in Red wouldn’t finish last place again – would they?
By early June, fans knew that not only were the Chicago Fire going to dig themselves out from the bottom of the table, but the likelihood that they would be playoff contenders looked promising.
David Accam, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho, amongst others have been battling injuries, just returned from injury, or will return from injury for the playoffs. Is the squad recovering at the appropriate time? With key players on the bench over the last couple of months, other players gained experience – this will certainly help strengthen roster options when Veljko Paunovic looks to his bench for substitution options.
Who will get the nod for the goalkeeper position? Matt Lampson, who has been with the team since February of 2016 and a total of 34 games played for the Fire? Or will Richard Sanchez start in net after only recently signing with the Fire?
We supporters are excited for the playoffs, for the opportunities that lie ahead, and for a home game, but we’re also realistic, especially after the last two unfortunate seasons.
Atlanta United: Well, here we are…The new kids in the league are in the playoffs. A 4th place finish to the regular season is better than where I thought we’d be at the beginning of the season. This gives us home field advantage for Thursday’s knockout round game – and home field advantage in Mercedes-Benz Stadium could be significant. We’ve also won both games against Columbus (#SaveTheCrew!) earlier this season – although we did lose to them in the preseason Carolina Challenge Cup in February.
This team is much stronger now. They’ve now had an entire season to get to know each other. We have a solid starting lineup – even with a few subs because of injuries. And with over 70,000 people expected at the game on Thursday to cheer them on, I think Atlanta United has a really good chance at hoisting that cup in December.
The boys are ready for this. Atlanta is ready for this.
Columbus Crew:In the middle of the season, the Crew was struggling and looked unlikely to make the playoffs, but Berhalter seems to have the magic touch with his team at the end of the season.The tie against NYCFC took the Crew’s unbeaten streak to 10.It kept the team in the 5th spot while a win could’ve put them in 2nd place.
The team is dealing with a lot of distractions with a fan base who passionately loves them and is distraught that an owner would take them away.(#savethecrew)However, if the team can keep their form and absorb the passion the fans are showing them, they actually have a chance against Atlanta.Although, it will be a tough away game.The fans really need them to win, so we have a home playoff game to show how much we love the players.
New York Red Bulls: Whew! Just made it in under the wire. But RBNY is in the playoffs for the 8th season in a row. Always the bridesmaid, RBNY is the only MLS 1.0 team (originally the NY/NJ Metrostars) never to lift the MLS Cup. Coach Jesse Marsch has said that the team has been the favorite during the playoffs to no avail and that it’s time to be underdog.
I’m expecting a solid performance from Tyler Adams and the rest of the back line as well as more attacking from Daniel Royer. Defender Aurelien Collin has been working his way back to full health, and Jesse hopes to be able to bring him back into the 18. Dax McCarty and the Chicago Fire are the first obstacle in the knockout round, and another edition of the Hudson River Derby is practically guaranteed after that. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth having ever is. Fight Together.
Portland Timbers: It is not an overstatement to say that for the Timbers this Sunday’s game was the most important game of the year up to this point. The Cascadia Cup was on the line, as was the chance to win the conference and a first round bye.
With a Portland win, they have won the West and a first round bye. They also take back the Cascadia Cup, the coveted supporter-owned trophy awarded to whichever northwest team has the best finish among the three Cascadia-area squads. If Portland had tied or lost, Seattle would have taken the Cup, and Portland would almost certainly have dropped to third or fourth place, hosting a midweek knockout round game.
As I expected, Attinella remained in goal, with Vytas and Powell on the wings, and Mattocks up top as we wait for Fanendo Adi to be match fit. And with PTFC’s Mattocks being a former Whitecaps player there was plenty of opportunity for a knife-twisting match finish as he gave us the go-ahead goal to seal the deal. Now we wait to see who makes it out of the knockout round.
Seattle Sounders: It is finally time to defend our cup.This year has been such an up and down year.There are days where we look like the team from last year’s run.And then there are games where we look like a team that hasn’t even played together before.
The game against FC Dallas gives me hope that maybe we are turning a corner.With a win on Sunday gives us a much needed bye.This will give the team time to heal up.I can’t wait for this run at the MLS cup.I really hope the top team in the East loses so we can host the cup this year!!
Vancouver Whitecaps: The Whitecaps were able to pull themselves above the red line in a very decisive way, landing themselves in 3rd place in the Western conference after flirting with the top spot for a hot minute. They will meet the San Jose Earthquakes in the knockout round at home in Vancouver. This is a decided advantage for the Whitecaps, as BC Place has been a fortress for the team this season.
*Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo played VERY well at home this year, giving up only one game at home at BBVA during the regular season. And they have to be looking forward to the opportunity to take on Sporting KC again, having just beaten them at home less than two weeks ago and drawing them in Kansas City shortly thereafter. If they manage to pull it off, their next opponent will be one of the top two finishers in the West, Portland or Seattle.
Sporting KC: I am not pleased with how this season ended, and I am not pleased that Sporting fell from 1st to 5th in the West over the last third of the season. If we’re going to make it anywhere in the playoffs we have to do one thing…score goals. It seems like that should be pretty easy, but obviously it’s not since SKC scored just 3 goals in their last 5 games.
If the Sporting team from the beginning of the season comes back then we could be in good shape, but the run will be hard since we have no home field advantage. Hopefully, with this being the third game against Houston in a two week span we’ll have them figured out. Sporting, don’t make this city regret all the energy you put into the US Open Cup. We need some of that magic for the playoffs.
*San Jose Earthquakes: The Quakes had a wild finish to the regular season, with the winning goal coming three minutes into stoppage time against expansion side Minnesota United. Now they travel to Canada on only three days rest for a single game elimination round. They may still manage the upset against a Whitecaps squad that is struggling to put games away at precisely the wrong time in the season.
If San Jose can pull it off, they will face Portland in a conference semifinal, a team they’ve beaten at home twice during the regular season.
(Teams marked with a * do not have an official reporter from MLSFemale. If you support any of these teams, find your inner reporter and contact us!)
The Eastern Conference has already been decided the week before Major League Soccer’s Decision Day. The New York Red Bulls (13-12-8, 47 points), despite what felt like a rickety roller coaster of a season, clinched the final spot in the playoffs with a decisive win at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
When RBNY played Atlanta United (15-9-9, 54 points) on Opening Day for this season, it was a momentous occasion. While the sparkling newcomers opened the scoring, they faltered at not only the feet of legendary Red Bull striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, but also their own: an own goal gave the day to the team of MLS history. And while that’s not exactly how a team wants to win, fans surely took it as a sign of a strong season for RBNY while Atlanta braced themselves for growing pains in their inaugural season. But as the season continued, it was clear: one game does not a season make.
[Insert Flatliners joke about DC United here. What? It’s not like I have a DCU colleague to insult… yet.]
Being the final home game of the regular season, RBNY participated in the league-wide tradition of Supporter’s Day, with live music and drink specials, and a promise of all sorts of fireworks, from the players as well as the pyrotechnic experts. And boy did they all deliver! Atlanta United is.. are.. um.. well..?
I do a running log of every game just so I can remember it later (You don’t wanna see it, trust me. It’s a total snoozefest). I have nearly 10 statements that include the words “taken down” or “foul by [ATL player].” Add in the only two yellow cards of the match (both for Atlanta: Yamil Asad 61′; Leadro Gonzalez-Pirez 94′) and the only thing I can say is, ‘Ouch. That’s rough.’
But RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch said… a little more:
Their bench is yelling to kick our guys from the bench, okay. So Martino is yelling in Spanish to kick our players.
Is it true? Is Jesse just speaking out of frustration? I don’t know. I don’t really care. Comments like this don’t change anything.
The Ironman vs Mr. Clean Sheet: I’m absolutely convinced that the entire 90 minutes of the match could have been comprised of RBNY GK Luis Robles punting the ball to ATLUTD GK Brad Guzan and Guzan returning it in kind. Would’ve been the most boring game ever… Both keepers were credited with 3 saves and were supported by their respective back lines.
Play Your Kids: The Average age of the players on RBNY is 26 years, 3 months (What were you doing at that age? I had two kids and the most creative I ever got with writing was making wacky fill-in-the-blank vocabulary tests for high school kids.) Atlanta United is not far behind with an average age of 26 years 7 months.
While I write, ATLUTD Midfielder Andrew Carleton is helping make some USMNT U-17 magic in the U-17 World Cup in India. RBNY’s Derrick Etienne was called up for the Haitian national team when they played a friendly against Japan. And of course, RBNY Academy product Tyler Adams was the center of attention after going another 90 minutes in red and white, having figured in USMNT’s U-17 and U-20 teams and their respective World Cup runs.
“We love our young players, and we love to develop them. We
love to teach them to play our style. We like them to be aggressive. We want them to be rewarded for their aggression, for their commitment and you see that in our system, players develop, period, period.” –Jesse Marsch, post game interview
That’s certainly great, but does that affect the veteran players?
“Obviously, the physical part of the game comes really easy for Tyler Adams. Sean Davis, I thought stood pretty tall today as well and covered a lot of ground. We’ve gotten some good performances from some young guys, and we got to push ourselves into the playoffs.” -Midfielder & team Captain Sacha Kljestan
“Maybe the light is not on me anymore, it’s on the young players… and I love that.”
-Defender Damien Perrinelle
(That’s right: I interviewed Damien Perrinelle… badly. Being a teacher for nearly 20 years, I’m used to being the one doing all the talking. But this is the only way to learn; if he’ll allow it, I’ll take another run at it next chance I get.)
The Result: Before the match, I did an Instagram Live video with my ATLUTD counterpart, and neither of us were sure what to expect. But after the attacks and counterattacks, the free kicks and the corners, the tackles and the warnings, a scoreless draw and no major injuries from either team was just about the best result that could have happened. So let the *other* fireworks begin. These two teams just might see each other one more time during the post-season.
On a personal note: I have to take this opportunity to tell you, the reader, that this writing experience with MLSFemale has been one of the best things to happen to me in recent years. I didn’t know what to expect when I first filled out an application for a media pass at Red Bull Arena. Pretty much every other writer here is a member of a team supporter club/season ticket holder, so I’m taking a very different approach by opting for the press box.
But I’ve met some amazing writers, photographers, and podcasters, and have been able to share my passion for the club with them (especially Kerissa— the Veron to my BWP). I even introduced myself to Tina Cervasio of MSG, who is a role model in the world of female sportscasting. The guys in the RBNY communications department have been super supportive, and it’s been so much fun to get to know MLS employees and soccer pundits as a result of my writing.
The players have been gracious and open, and I hope to get more time to bring their personalities to you in the coming months, even after the final whistle blows this season. I’ve had the time of my life, and I owe it all to all of you.
(PS– yeah, I know my usual musical theme didn’t come through much in this article. Don’t @ me… oh, you know what– go ahead. I’m a grown @ woman.)