Few will give the New York Red Bulls, the 2018 MLS Supporters' Shield winners, much of a chance of reaching MLS Cup after dropping a 3-0 decision to Atlanta United in the first leg of the Eastern
Conference final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday in front of 70,016 fans.
But Red Bulls coach Chris Armas
insisted right away that the deficit won't be insurmountable on Thursday. After
all, they beat Columbus, 3-0, at Red Bull Arena in the previous round.
“Look, it is going to be difficult," he said. "It always was going to be. We put ourselves in a hole, but we
came out of a series where we scored three in our building. That is the goal. That’s the starting point. We will score the first goal, and the rest will follow. We will come out a little bit
differently with the energy and the fight that is going to be needed.”
The Red Bulls better come out a lot differently if it wants to get the job done. They didn't come out with
their usual intensity that produced a series sweep against Atlanta United during the regular season -- 3-1 at MBS in May and 2-0 at home in late September.
They were missing Best XI pick
, who injured his knee in training after returning to New Jersey from international duty with Jamaica, and his absence at left back was felt. Red Bulls players played more minutes
than those on all other three conference finalists combined, and they looked flat.
The Red Bulls sat back in the first half -- a move that proved costly as Atlanta United picked them
apart, getting a goal from Josef Martinez
and later in the second half two more from Franco Escobar
and sub Tito Villalba.
“I think the biggest change was we
knew we had to match the intensity of the Red Bulls," Atlanta United coach Tata Martino
said of the change from the other two meetings. "In the last game we played there, we were not able to do
that. That was the biggest difference."
The killer goal was the third goal from Villalba minutes after he hit the post and during the eight-minute stoppage time that resulted in part from
the VAR decision to (correctly) nullify Bradley Wright-Phillips
' tying goal early in the second half.
The play of Julian Gressel
, the second-year German out of Providence
College who set up Escobar's goal, has kept high-priced Ezequiel Barco
and Villalba out of the starting lineup, but Martino likes the options he has off the bench.
"The only thing
I have to say," he said afterward, "is that there are very few teams who have players coming off the bench like Tito or Ezequiel who are able to change a game or make a difference in a game."
Nov. 25 in Atlanta, Ga.
Atlanta United 3 NY Red Bulls 0.
Goals: Martinez (Larentowicz) 32, Escobar (Gressel,
Almiron) 72, Villalba (Escobar) 90+5. Atlanta United --
Guzan; Gonzalez Pirez, Parkhurst, Larentowicz; Garza (McCann 83), Remedi, Nagbe, Escobar; Martinez (Villalba 77), Almiron
(Barco 86), Gressel. NY Red Bulls --
Robles; Murillo, Long, Parker, Lade; Davis (White 87), Adams; Royer (Etienne 71), Kaku, Muyl (Rzatkowski 84); Wright-Phillips.
Kevin Stott. Assistant Referees
: Adam Wienckowski Corey Parker. 4th Official:
Allen Chapman. VAR:
Drew Fischer. Att.: