Aaron Long celebrates Red Bulls’ first half goal. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
AGAINST THE GRAIN: Red Buls
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — Well, what do you know? These Red Bulls just might be different than their predecessors after all.
Sparked by Daniel Royer’s two-goal explosion late in the match, the Red Bulls overcame their abysmal playoff history and a one-goal deficit entering the game en route to a 3-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC in the Eastern Conference semifinals at Red Bull Arena Sunday night.
The Red Bulls won the aggregate goals series, 3-1, after losing in Columbus last Sunday, 1-0.
Entering the match, the Supporters Shield winners had brought in a 2-3-3 mark after losing the opening leg of an MLS Cuip playoff series.
“It’s a great feeling to help the team,” Royer said. “At the end, it doesn’t matter who scores. It was a great team performance and that’s what counts, and I think we did a really good job in the 90 minutes today, and I think it’s well deserved.
“Today we played more aggressive. It’s a little easier at Red Bull Arena to play the way we want to play, but on the other hand, you have to give them credit, they are a real tactical team. They know what they do, and they’re a good team. I think they did a really good job, especially in Columbus, so it wasn’t that easy for us to be aggressive and create chances. So, it wasn’t the best result, but not the worst result either. We knew when we came back to Red Bull Arena and we play our style that we can still beat them.”
The Red Bulls will face Atlanta United in the conference final with the first leg slated for Atlanta Sunday, Nov. 25. The second leg will be at Red Bull Arena Thursday, Nov. 29.
“They played a good game on a night that they needed to play a good game,” Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “So give them a lot of credit.”
Royer, whose header set up Alex Muyl’s first half goal, took matter into his own hands, or rather his feet, in the 73rd minute.
He finished off a play in which the Red Bulls completed at least six consecutive passes before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Zack Steffen for a 2-0 advantage.
The RBA faithful barely had time celebrating Royer’s goal before the Austrian struck again, this time moving from lef to the middle of the penalty arc before powering a shot over the U.S. international goal for an important third goal.
“Aww man life was good,” striker Bradley Wright-Phillips said about Royer’s second half.
Center back Aaron Long continued quite a week for himself by helping set up the first goal of the match in the 17th minute.
Midfielder Sean Davis sent a free kick from the right side across the field to Royer, who headed it into the middle of the box. Long touched it once as as it went off Muyl past Steffen from six yards for a 1-0 edge.