13 consecutive playoff exits and no MLS Cup appearances have ended a 13-year playoff streak. The Red Bulls blew a lead to lose to FC Cincinnati at home on Saturday, providing the most recent instance to perfectly sum up those three words. The game had it all: a spectacular goal, an injury during the celebration that followed, and, in the end, another Red Bull collapse. Where, however, did the Red Bulls make a mistake? Let’s investigate.
For the, everything appeared to be going so beautifully. Early on in the second half, Lewis Morgan had just given the home team the lead with a rocket goal. The team’s top scorer, a Scottish star, was surrounded by teammates as a huge celebration ensued.
After those celebrations, Morgan called for the bench to take him out because he was hurt. It was all Cincinnati after that. Acosta and Vazquez’s goals were just enough to propel the visitors into a matchup with the Philadelphia Union. The first goal was absolutely avoidable due to a careless penalty that Andres Reyes conceded. In the second, both Vazquez and Sergio Santos failed in their solo battles despite outpacing their defenders. The Red Bulls were eliminated in the playoffs because of a performance that wasn’t great but wasn’t great either.
Yes, the Red Bulls’ 13-year postseason streak is a remarkable achievement in Major League Soccer. In the regular season, the Red Bulls can defeat anyone on their day, as they have done for years thanks to their pressing strategy.
The issue is that, given the way this club performs, they can’t win multiple games in a row in a playoff system. Four consecutive Round One exits and a lack of MLS Cup Final appearances since the beginning of this all serve as clear evidence.
Teams have virtually figured out the pressing strategy used by the Red Bulls, and they did so years ago. Simply play patiently, avoid making costly mistakes, and avoid taking unnecessary risks in order to avoid falling into the Red Bulls’ trap. The margins are considerably thinner in the postseason for a club that depends more on the errors of other teams than on its own game-changers.
In this league, you often only advance as far as your DPs can take you. Additionally, the Red Bulls’ DPs fell short of expectations. By mid-July, Luquinhas had five goals and three assists, kicking off the season in style. In the 16 games that followed, he scored 0 goals and had 1 assist. After scoring or providing an assist on 15 goals in 29 games the season before, Patryk Klimala only contributed to eight goals in 28 outings.
And then there’s Dru Yearwood, who hasn’t participated in the competition since kicking a ball into the crowd and hurting a spectator in September. Compare that to Cincinnati, who won the game thanks to goals from two of its finest players. There is only one outcome when your stars disappear during critical periods. And if you don’t spend the money to get the greatest players, you’ll probably find it difficult to compete.
After this campaign, the USMNT center-back will be a free agent, and his future is uncertain. While he’ll have plenty of suitors in MLS should he decide to stay, a great World Cup might spark European interest. Despite the fact that he wasn’t at his best against Cincinnati, Long is as crucial as it gets for this Red Bulls squad. Despite his injury troubles, he is the defensive anchor and star, and this club would not be the same without him.
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