Andre Blake frustrated the Red Bulls all afternoon. Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sport
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — The Red Bulls’ scoreless draw with the Philadelphia Union Sunday eliminated them from winning the Eastern Conference crown for the third consecutive year.
That didn’t matter. It was inevitable that Toronto FC (18-3-8, 62 points) was going to leave the sixth-place Red Bulls (12-10-6, 42) behind.
Besides, they have more important fish to fry come Wednesday.
Which is why they sat down several key players for the MLS encounter against 10th-place Philly (8-12-9, 33) at Red Bull Arena.
They wanted to make sure would be fit and ready for the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup final against Sporting Kansas City.
Head coach Jesse Marsch’s impressive bench at kickoff included defenders Fidel Escobar and Aaron Long, defender-midfielder Tyler Adams, midfielder and team captain Sacha Kljestan and striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.
With essentially several role and backup players, on the field, New York played Philly to a scoreless draw in the opening half.
Afterwards, Marsch defended his decision on keeping those players on the bench in reserve.
“I think it’s the right decision,” he said. “Given everything, we want to win the trophy, right, and you don’t have a lot of opportunities to play a final; clearly around this club, very few.”
Marsch explained his decision-making process.
“You’re looking at which players have the best ability to recover,” he said. “You’re looking at how to get the balance of the team right, how to rotate guys on the week so that the team is still going to look the way we want, but also to give certain guys a break to make sure that on Wednesday we’re fresh.”
Wright-Phillips thought it wasn’t risky to bench all those regulars.
“No, not at all. Isn’t that what your squad is for?” he said. “All the players that played today could start on any other day. We’ve got competition for places, and the guys that started today, they showed just that. Look at Gonzalo’s [Veron] performance; all he’s missing was a goal. He came in and done well. Derrick Etienne done well. All these guys that are not playing came in. If I was Jesse, I’d do the same. I don’t think there’s a weak link in our squad.”
Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was outstanding, making several vital stops. That included a two-handed save on Etienne in the 26th minute and a diving save on Gonzalo Veron in the 40th minute.
Veron was the most influential Red Bull on the pitch, causing all sorts of havoc. He alone forced four corner kicks in the first half. However, he could not finish any of his chances.
Blake continued his heroics in the second half. During a bang-bang sequence in the 77th minute, the Jamaican international keeper knocked down Kljestan’s free kick and kicked away BWP’s subsequent rebound attempt from point-blank range.