(Red Bulls offense operating in the Toronto FC zone – Photo by Jason Schott)
The Red Bulls lost the first-leg of their two-game Eastern Conference Semifinal series with Toronto FC, 2-1, at Red Bull Arena on Monday night.
Toronto, the Eastern Conference’s top seed, got what they wanted in this one: two road goals, which forces the Red Bulls to win by at least two (3-1, let’s say) on Sunday in Toronto. If it finishes 1-0 Red Bulls, the tie-breaker is the extra road goal Toronto got on Monday night.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch acknowledges they have an uphill battle heading into the second leg, as they did going into this series as the sixth seed, “Well, if we had a big hill to climb before, we’ve got a mountain now. But so what? That’s what the playoffs are. It’s not supposed to be easy. It won’t ever be easy. Obviously we’ve made it even more difficult on ourselves, but whatever. We’re going to go there with — we wanted to have a little bit more of a nothing-to-lose mentality tonight, and I felt we played very tight, and for sure, now we’re going there, we’ve got nothing to lose. I know they’re very good at home. I know it’s a very tough place to play. I know the stadium will be sold out. I know they’re the best team in the league, but so what? So what? Let’s go there and go fight for it.”
Toronto got on the board first on Monday night. In the eighth minute, Toronto kept the ball in the Red Bulls’ zone, and Jozy Altidore took it down the right side before firing it to Victor Vazquez coming down the left-center of the box, and Vazquez buried to make it 1-0.
Toronto continued to dominate the first half, and Red Bull Arena was silent aside from vulgar chants from their main supporters section directed at Altidore and Michael Bradley.
In the 46th minute, the Red Bulls took it into Toronto’s zone and Bradley Wright-Phillips was taken down by Drew Moor in the box, resulting in a penalty kick.
Daniel Royer took the PK and buried it to tie the game at 1 and send the teams into the locker room even.
That was a big positive for the Red Bulls, considering their slow start, and Marsch said of that, ” Don’t know. Wouldn’t have predicted it, didn’t see it coming, didn’t expect so many sub-par performances from our guys. Didn’t expect us to lack explosiveness. So caught me by surprise, quite honestly. But sometimes in big games, that’s the way it goes. We’ve got to regroup and then throw more at it come Sunday.”
Marsch said of the Red Bulls being able to play their free-flowing style in the first half, “Yeah, I mean, they clearly wanted us to have the ball and then wanted us to turn the ball over in the middle of the field and then catch us on the counter. It took us far too long to figure that out, and we were trying to get the message out on the field, but it wasn’t clear enough, I think, and so it took us too long. But we have a bad first half and walk in halftime 1-1. So you know, given everything, at that point you feel like, okay, we can gather some momentum and now put it into the second half.”
The Red Bulls came out firing in the second half, and there was a stretch around the 60th minute when they had four corner kicks in a row. Off the third one of those, in the 63rd minute, Gonzalo Veron had a good chance on the right side of the box, just after he entered the game.
In the 72nd minute, Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco took a free kick from the left side, and hooked the kick around the “wall” of the Red Bulls defenders and got it by Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles on the short side to make it 2-1 Toronto.
Marsch said of that goal, “We know that Giovinco is good from that spot, so we don’t want him to run free in that spot, we don’t want him to be fouled in that spot, and then we wanted somebody to drop on the post and they didn’t get there, so then it’s 2-1.”
The Red Bulls had a chance late, in the 93rd minute, when Wright-Phillips went for a bicycle kick, and when his foot was in the air, it connected with the hands of Toronto defender Chris Mavinga.
Mavinga stayed on the ground for a few minutes, and remained in the game, as Toronto wound down the final couple minutes of extra time.
That was the end of what Marsch has termed “halftime” in this Eastern Semifinal series.
“So yeah, not a good performance from us,” said Marsch. “Not a good performance from us, and disappointing in such a big match, but that being said, it’s halftime. There’s still some — still some left to this game, as crappy as it feels right now. We still have a lot to play for.”