Columbus-NY Red Bulls Takeaways: Big hole is dug

The Columbus Crew needed only nine seconds -- an MLS postseason playoff record -- to score and used goals by Justin Meram and Kei Kamara to beat the MLS regular-season champion New York Red Bulls, 2-0, in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final before 21,617 fans, the largest postseason home crowd in Crew history.

1. Crew triumphs with lightning-quick strikes.

The Crew took the game right to the Red Bulls, scoring off the kickoff when the ball was played back to Wil Trapp, who lofted a long ball that Kamara flicked on. Ethan Finlay couldn't control the ball but managed to head it down for Meram to poke past a stunned Luis Robles after the Red Bulls defense couldn't react fast enough to clear the ball.

Robles kept the Red Bulls in the game with five saves but could do nothing on the second goal scored when Congolese sub Cedrick Mabwati beat three New York defenders and fired a shot from close range that Robles parried. Waiting at the far post was Kamara for an easy tap-in to put away his third goal of the playoffs.

What frustrated Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch about the first goal was his players had worked all week on dealing with balls to Kamara then played off to Finlay, but they couldn't stop the play.

"And then on the second one we let Cedrick kind of dribble through about three, four guys, a little worried to give up a penalty," Marsch said, "but guys didn't do well enough. All together on the night, we weren't alert enough, we didn't cover enough ground, we didn't make it hard on them, we didn't win enough loose balls, we didn't do enough. We let ourselves down."

2. Crew frustrates Red Bulls in midfield.

The surprise of the game was how the Crew got to the Red Bulls midfielders, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan and Felipe, who had been so dominant much of the MLS season en route to New York's Supporters' Shield. McCarty and Kljestan in particular had poor games.

Tony Tchani, tipped for a callup to the U.S. national team after not showing for his first callup to the Cameroonian national team last week because of a leg injury that bothered him in the conference semifinals, and Wil Trapp joined with Federico Higuain to gain the edge in midfield.

"It seemed like there was very little space in the field," said Crew coach Gregg Berhalter, "very little time on the ball, and that all stems from the numbers in the midfield. It's extremely tight and very difficult to get your foot on the ball and control it. I think we did a good job, particularly in the first half when we were able to switch the ball from side-to-side and really break some of that pressure. Second half it became more difficult. But the midfield battle was about second balls and battling in tight spaces."

3. New York squanders its chances.

Even after being stunned in the first minute, the Red Bulls had plenty of opportunities to get back in the game until Cedrick's devastating run set up Kamara for the second goal. New York outshot the Crew, 16-15, but could only manage to put two shots on target as its string of 26 straight games with at least one goal was snapped.

"It is a strange feeling not to score a goal," said Robles. "I think in the regular season that only happened twice."

In the second leg, New York will have to score at least two goals to even the series but also keep the Crew off the scoreboard at Red Bull Arena. That could be a tall order as the Red Bulls missed central defender Damien Perrinelle, out for the playoffs with a knee injury suffered in the first leg of the conference semifinals.

"We are going to have to defend a little bit better than we did tonight," said Marsch, "that's for sure."

TRIVIA. The previous record for the fastest goal scored in the MLS playoffs was held by the Crew's Adrian Paz, who scored 26 seconds into its game at Tampa Bay on Sept. 28, 1996.

Nov. 22 in Columbus, Ohio
Columbus 2 NY Red Bulls 0. Goals: Meram 1, Kamara 85.
Columbus -- Clark; Afful (Klute, 89), Parkhurst, Wahl, Francis; Trapp, Tchani; Finlay (Mabwati, 80), Higuain, Meram (George, 90+4); Kamara
NY Red Bulls -- Robles; Zizzo, Miazga, Zubar, Lawrence; McCarty, Felipe; Sam (Abang, 86), Kljestan, Grella (Veron, 66); Wright-Phillips.
Yellow Card: Columbus -- Wahl 46.
Att.: 21,617.
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