By DAVE MARTINEZ
The New York Red Bulls didn't expect their U.S. Open Cup run to end this way.
After the Red Bulls declared a more serious tone to their Open Cup ambitions, they still managed to get eliminated earlier than their previous effort – despite an automatic bye to the third round. Their 3-1 extra-time ouster against the Harrisburg City Islanders has left the team searching for answers.
"(Harrisburg) played with all their heart and it’s just a loss that’s really hard to swallow," right midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli said. "It shouldn’t happen, but unfortunately it did. Everyone is really disappointed now. A lot of fans came out to support us, and we were hoping the outcome would be different."
A slow start to Tuesday's match forced New York to pick up the pace in the second. Connor Lade managed to put in a goal with a scramble in front of the net to tie the match.
"We weren't panicking at halftime when we were down a goal, because we knew there was a lot of game left to play and we were confident we could get back into this game,” Lade said.
From there, the Red Bulls pressured but failed to convert before the game went into extra time.
"We didn’t really keep our shape," forward Jhonny Arteaga said. "I had a couple of chances. One, I should have taken a touch and try to finish on one touch. I tried to do it one time. Usually you don’t have enough time. (The team) is just really disappointed, for sure."
Once again, New York came out of the gates tentative in the added time, and Harrisburg made them pay.
“Overall we’re disappointed with the way we came out in extra time,” Lade noted. “I thought they came out a bit sharper than we did and were fortunate enough to get on the board first. From there, it was an uphill battle where we had to fight and claw to get back into it and unfortunately we weren’t able to do that.”
It didn't help the Red Bulls that an obvious handball in the box by the City Islanders went uncalled, one that would have given New York a penalty kick and a chance to level the score again. When Harrisburg compounded that with an insurance goal, it finished off the Red Bulls' run.
“Once they went up two, it was really difficult to break in and get through balls,” Arteaga said. “We tried to stretch them as much as possible, play wide and get crosses in. It’s just one of those nights we didn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”
The stinging loss sent most of the team running for their chartered bus back to New York. Even the usually accessible Red Bulls coach Hans Backe declined to speak with the media after the match. With 10 days until their next match (a June 17th tilt at Chicago against the Fire), the Red Bulls will be taking some time off to gather themselves before restarting league play.
"This was a high priority for us – that’s why it’s extra disappointing," Solli said. “We wanted to come out here and win the game and then take a well deserved holiday. It is still going to be a holiday but everyone is going to be really disappointed.
"We were hoping to go all the way to the Cup this year, but there is still a lot of things to play for. We aren’t going to dig our own grave."
For Lade, the time off will be spent refocusing on goals for the remainder of the season.
“We’re focusing on winning that MLS Cup,” he said. “We really wanted to get this one as well, but now that this one is out of the picture we can focus all our efforts and concentrations on that.”