Jesse Marsch: “Whatever the score is in the 80th minute, the game is not done.” (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)
HANOVER, N.J. — Welcome to the Major League Soccer conference playoffs, which can be quite unforgiving.
If a team managed to survive the mid-week knockout rounds, the aggregate-goal series in the conference semifinals and final might seem like a vacation.
Instead of laying it all on the line in one match, teams do have an opportunity to regroup for a second match if things go array in the first leg. Some look at the series as a 180-minute match.
Still, many things can change or go wrong in a matter of seconds to turn a series on its head.
“Every play matters,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “Whatever the score is in the 80th minute, the game is not done. You have to make sure that if you have a lead, if it’s tied, or you’re behind, even the subs you make. If you’re in a hole, you’re not in a bigger hole. If you have a lead, you don’t give it up. And if you can find ways to expand on it in a smart way, then that’s what you do.
“Everything is calculated, and we have to make sure that we understand that and that we manage game appropriately.”
With the lower-seeded Red Bulls hosting Toronto FC at Red Bull Arena Monday at 7:25 p.m., they need a win. A shutout would be better. A draw would not necessarily would be that good and a loss would be devastating.
“Of course, the goal would be come out and win and post a shutout at home,” captain Sacha Kljestan said after practice at the Red Bull Training Facility Friday. “Obviously, that’s the best-case scenario. But then you have to see how the game is going.
“Who knows? a draw in the first leg might not be a bad result, depending on how the game went. It’s hard to predict how these games will go or really game plan for a two-game legged series because things can be thrown on their head in the first 10 minutes of a series.”
Kljestan brought up the 2015 Eastern Conference final series against the host Columbus Crew SC, when the Red Bulls’ foes scored nine seconds into the opening leg.
“That changes the whole series,” he said.
Columbus added a late second goal in that match and the Red Bulls wound up chasing the second home leg. They won at RBA, 1-0, but it was not enough.