After an uninspiring 1-0 loss in Columbus, the New York Red Bulls turned their fortunes around with a commanding 3-0 win over the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference semifinals, booking a spot in the next round in the process. The two legs ended up being vastly different matches for both sides, but for the eventual victors, it was a day for the wide midfielders.
Alex Muyl, on the right, and Daniel Royer, on the left, were the night’s two goalscorers, with the Austrian recording a second half brace that all but ended the Crew’s chances to advance. Both were also influential in the buildup of the goals they did not score, with Muyl recording an assist on Royer’s first. The players, for head coach Chris Armas, are the perfect package deal of not just goals and attacking talent, but also being able to fit the system.
“If you first talked about Dani and Alex in the pressing it’s one thing,” Armas said, “but then with the ball, now they’re producing, they were a force now in the attack.” That ended up helping with the Red Bulls’ overall strategy as the team adapted its second leg strategy, including the play of right back Michael Amir Murillo and left back Kemar Lawrence.
“Maybe we’re being a little conservative, staying home a little bit,” Armas said about the first leg. “It wasn’t really the game plan, but that’s the way it played out, and so you go there and doesn’t feel great because you lose the game, but we didn’t give up that second goal and more. … In our building we’ll take care of it. But tonight the emphasis was to attack the flanks and we did, and the crosses early in the first half with Kemar, you see Murillo getting forward, they were both dangerous. And so the wide play was great tonight.”
Muyl echoed those statements after his impactful night that is just one in a stretch of strong form. Starting his seventh consecutive match on Sunday night, the New York native is becoming a reliable option on the Red Bulls’ right wing after an inconsistent start to his professional career. The player gives the credit to his coaches, including Armas’s predecessor, Jesse Marsch.
“Chris is great,” Muyl said. “So was Jesse at fostering young players and giving them confidence and giving them chances. I think it’s more just in the process. I’m getting a little bit more experience now and it’s coming together for me but I don’t think anything has really changed. I’ve just been able to make a few more plays and the team is so good this year that you get more opportunities to make plays.”
While Muyl finally begins to add experience to his game, Royer has been someone the Red Bulls could count on for most of his two-year stint with the club. He has become a source of goals to lighten the load for the likes of Bradley Wright-Phillips, who believes that part of Royer’s game is important to the team’s long-term success.
“It doesn’t matter what areas,” the forward said. “We just need people to chip in with goals, like they have been all season. I think it’s been spread out widely throughout the season. Today, Dani comes up big. Next game we’re playing a better team. No disrespect to Columbus, but the table doesn’t lie. We’re playing a better and someone else is going to have to step up.” Wright-Phillips even called Royer the team’s most clinical player in the box, a compliment that Royer quickly and politely rejected.
Despite the focus on the wide players, Royer noted that the well-known system did not change. As is almost always the case on a day the Red Bulls do well, the press was efficient and successful for long stretches of the match, at times shutting the Crew out completely in the attacking third.
“It’s a little easier at [Red Bull Arena] to play the way we want to play,” Royer said. “I think we just played the same way we always do. Of course, there are always some little adjustments, or it depends on who you play against, but in general, our philosophy will never change at RBA.”