Gerhard Struber was able to enjoy a lead for just three minutes during his debut as New York Red Bulls head coach before the Columbus Crew found an equalizer.
That brief moment of promise quickly faded as the Crew took control in the second half, exposing the gap in quality between the Eastern Conference foes, and providing a reminder of just how much work Struber has to do this offseason.
“The game showed everyone the rollercoaster of the season,” Struber said. “Today I can see things what is my responsibility to improve in the next time. I know this, the game confirmed that one more time and I know we have many, many things to do.”
The Red Bulls began to lose the energy Caden Clark’s 23rd-minute strike gave them when a reckless challenge from midfielder Dru Yearwood in the penalty area allowed Pedro Santos to score the subsequent penalty.
Despite this, Struber was pleased with how his team looked in the first half, where he implemented a diamond in midfield to deal with Columbus’ pairing of Darlington Nagbe and Artur.
Things quickly took a turn once the second-half whistle blew.
“We knew that they were a strong team coming out of halftime, and we talked about it,” captain and midfielder Sean Davis said. “You know words are one thing but actions are another and so you give up a goal right after halftime I think that’s the most frustrating part of the game for me.
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The Red Bulls were late to react to a Ryan Meara save, allowing Darlington Nagbe to get on the rebound and fire the Crew ahead just 23 seconds into the second half.
“The goal right after the halftime break gave some players a knife in the heart,” Struber said. “Many players are shocked in this moment and we lose momentum and lose control in the game.”
From that point, the team struggled to put much together going forward, begun losing 50-50s, and were slow to closing dangerous players down.
This lack of sharpness allowed the Crew to double their lead in the 68th minute, Gyasi Zardes nodding in an unchallenged cross from Derrick Etienne Jr.
The Red Bulls eventually picked up energy after second-half substitute Brian White scored in the 90th minute. They left it too late and failed to find an equalizer.
“I think that for the young players, the games in the playoffs give everyone a very good experience,” Struber said. “I hope the learning curve from these games go up.”
Seven of the Red Bulls who took the field on Saturday were making their MLS postseason debut. Preparing these young players to compete with established MLS talent will be Struber’s job for the upcoming years.
“I think this club has high standards and we have to make that next step,” Davis said. “You can see even tonight we have some good moments but we also have to clean up and put in a complete performance against a good team if we want to get the results.”