The New York Red Bulls went all in on the Concacaf Champions League for the second consecutive season, but once again they came away empty-handed.
The Red Bulls were knocked out of the tournament on Tuesday, suffering a frustrating 4-2 defeat to Santos Laguna to lose the quarterfinals series 6-2 on aggregate.
Here are a few thoughts on the Red Bulls’ elimination loss:
WHEN INTENSITY DROPPED OFF SO TOO DID THE PERFORMANCE
Too much pressure bursts the pipe. The Red Bulls learned that the hard way, as they succumbed to a flow of consistent Santos Laguna attacks. The MLS side started as brightly as anyone could have imagined, using the outside flanks, especially the left, effectively to create havoc for Santos Laguna in what seemed to be a clear pregame instruction from head coach Chris Armas.
The intensity levels with which the Red Bulls started the match inevitably wore off, however, and once that happened the club began to lose its stranglehold on the game. It was all Santos Laguna from the 30th minute on, with the Liga MX power realizing that playing long balls down the middle and being more direct down the wings could help undo the Red Bulls. It took a while, and some poor decision-making from the Red Bulls certainly helped, but eventually Santos’ goals came.
WRIGHT-PHILLIPS’ INEXCUSABLE MISS WEIGHS HEAVY
Just before the Red Bulls lost their grip on the game, they had a chance to jump in front on aggregate for the first time in the series when Bradley Wright-Phillips received the ball in the middle of the penalty area. The striker had a good bit of time and space, enough that he was able to collect the ball, take a touch to set himself up, and then turn with almost the entire goal to shoot at.
An opportunity like that is what Wright-Phillips’ gets paid for, it is the veteran’s bread and butter, and yet he inexplicably fired the ball almost right down the middle for an easy save. The Red Bulls could very well still have been knocked out had he scored, but maybe not. Santos would have been left to play with the pressure of knowing it needed to find four goals (instead of two) to avoid elimination had Wright-Phillips scored. Maybe that leads to the Liga MX side overexposing itself while frantically searching for goals, maybe it leads to the crowd turning on the team. Maybe not. We’ll never know.
What we do know is that in a pivotal moment Wright-Phillips wasted a glorious chance, one he is expected to make, and that is inexcusable.
ARMAS’ SUBSTITUTIONS ALSO PROVED COSTLY
Another factor that led to the Red Bulls’ downfall, though it certainly seemed to be inevitable at that point, was head coach Chris Armas’ substitutions in the 65th minute. Armas replaced Fernandez on the right wing and midfielder Florian Valot with attackers Derrick Etienne (why not the more in-form Andreas Ivan here?) and Mathias Jorgensen in a clear attempt to find that third goal that would have essentially put the game to rest.
While the idea to go for it certainly had some merit, Armas would have been better suited bringing in a more destructive midfielder to help break things up and provide more resistance. Cristian Casseres Jr. was not on the game-day roster, however, and no one on the bench had those qualities, which is a strike not only against Armas’ squad selection but the entire make up of the roster itself. After all, how can you be a high-pressing and energetic team that likes to force turnovers and win 50-50 balls with no true No. 6 on an 18-man game roster, let alone the field?
Regardless, the decision to try and throw more numbers forward at the expense of trying to solidify the middle gave Santos Laguna the last bit of space it needed to punish the Red Bulls. The flood of goals started soon after, and the Red Bulls wound up with another bitter elimination to chew on.