Luis Robles: “Yeah, it is tough. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.” (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — Minutes after the Red Bulls were ushered out of yet another competition to win some precious hardware, Bradley Wright-Phillips turned to teammate Luis Robles in a sullen locker room and said:
“Hey, we’ve just got to stop having this feeling. We’re sitting here trying to figure out how to get over the hump.”
Like it or not, the Red Bulls have never gotten over the hump, not in 22 MLS Cup playoffs, not in the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open and not in the CONCACAF Champions League.
They are something like 0-for-47 in cup/playoff competitions.
Their latest disappointment came Tuesday night at Red Bull Arena, where they outplayed Chivas, but could not get over the hump or the ball over the goal in what turned into an excruciating scoreless draw.
The result left the Guadalajara-based side 1-0 victors in the CCL semifinal series and heading to the final.
These repeat performances are getting old.
“It’s very old,” Robles said.
Since their inception in 1996, the MetroStars/Red Bulls have found ways of falling short or disappointing their fans.
“Yeah, it is tough,” the Red Bulls’ captain said. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”
Space, even on the internet, won’t allow us to go through past frustrating results, but the Red Bulls probably lead the league in failing to win the big one.
Last year, they were ushered out of the CCL quarterfinals by another MLS side, the beatable Vancouver Whitecaps before their league season kicked off.
This year, New York was in top form, besting Olimpia (Honduras) in the Round of 16 and rolling over Tijuana (Mexico) in the quarterfinals.
“That’s the difficult part of digesting it,” Robles said. “You look at six games. We gave up three goals. Defensively, we were great. We went to Tijuana and smacked them. and came back and took care of business. We went to Chivas and we felt for the most part it was there for us. Unfortunately, we gave up the one goal and tonight, it was the same thing. We were unfortunate we did not get that goal. You cannot fault the effort. You cannot fault the mentality the guys had going into the game.”
Robles and his teammates saw the side as a team of destiny, that it was going to make some history.
“When we arrived at the stadium, our mentality was we’re going to the final,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we are the team of destiny and go to the final and win this whole thing. But it didn’t work out. I guess that’s how life is sometimes. You give it your best and it doesn’t work out.”
So, it’s one competition down and two to go for the Red Bulls. Over the shorter term, there is the Open Cup, in which the Red Bulls reached the final before losing to Sporting Kansas City last year. Over the long term, there is the playoffs. Before the Red Bulls can reach the postseason, they must prove themselves and finish among the top six teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Red Bulls don’t have many days to feel sorry for themselves. They are back in league action, hosting the Montreal Impact Saturday at 1 p.m.
“Its strange though because in the playoffs you lose and it’s so final,” Robles said. “There’s no regrouping. You just wonder what’s next, what’s the team going to look like? Who’s going to be around? Yet when this ended, there was a great sense of loss and disappointment and yet we play Saturday against Montreal.”
A member of the Red Bulls since 2012, Robles had lived through more than his share of disappointments and eliminations. Since he is the MLS’ all-time iron man in the net, playing in 174 consecutive regular-season matches, Robles has experienced more than his share of heart-break.
“Trust me, they all hurt,” he said. “It’s hard to say one hurts one more than the other.”
The Red Bulls will get Wednesday off before snapping back to reality to prepare for Montreal.
“In these moments, as difficult as it is, I have to get out of my selfish world, take a step back and just realize that I have so much to be thankful for,” Robles said. “I think that’s what usually gives me the sensibility to continue because right now all I want to do is go wallow in my sorrow and think woe is me. But that’s not a professional mindset. There is still much going on in 2018.”