HARRISON, NEW JERSEY (November 29, 2018) – With a ticket to the MLS Cup Final on the line, the New York Red Bulls hosted Atlanta United for the second leg of the Eastern Conference Finals. The home side was down by three goals coming back to Harrison. Jamaican International Kemar Lawrence was again absent from the gameday roster for RBNY.
Neither team changed their lineups from the first leg on Sunday. But despite a goal at the death, the game ended 1-0, sending Atlanta to the MLS Cup final in their second year in the league.
Eastern Conference Finals: Red Bulls fall to Atlanta Despite 1-0 Win
From the opening whistle, the Red Bulls presented the threat that got them to this point. The first fifteen minutes were spent firmly in the attacking half. The crowd was electrified by the drive and focus among the players. In the 21st minute, “Kaku” Romero Gamarra broke through the defense but was halted at the last moment. A free kick in the 23rd minute for Atlanta was soon turned over for another drive down the pitch.
Overall, RBNY kept the game on their terms. Secure first touches by Kaku and Daniel Royer made the attack possible. Michael Amir Murillo kept the ball coming up the channel. Alex Muyl and Bradley Wright-Phillips kept the threat toward the Atlanta goal.
Atlanta striker Josef Martinez was visibly frustrated on a few occasions during the first half. MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long was able to keep him from controlling the ball in the Red Bull eighteen. Physicality marked the game, with eleven fouls called in just the first half. The match was scoreless at the half.
Early in the second half, Coach Chris Armas brought on Derrick Etienne, Jr. and Marc Rzatkowski to build the attack even further. But Atlanta was starting to find ways through. The overall pace of the game began to slow, and the match hit the hour mark still scoreless. As the clock ticked to the final whistle, however, the intensity never wavered from New York.
Just then, the Red Bulls broke through on a set piece and the ball was in the net. But like the first leg the goal was called back by Video Assisted Referee. That effectively disrupted the rhythm for the Red Bulls more than Atlanta’s defense had done. The match ended with a whimper, after four minutes of stoppage time. Even the last ditch goal from Tim Parker (90’+) did not give the impact that was needed.
This was the match the Red Bulls should have played in the first leg. It would have made Parker’s goal the difference maker it deserved to be. Now that old familiar feeling is back. The team may find consolation if Sporting Kansas City win the West. That will secure RBNY a space in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League competition.