Red Bulls midfielder Caden Clark (37) battles for the ball against Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon (11). (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Poised to clinch an MLS Cup Playoff berth with a win, neither the Red Bulls or Atlanta United could walk out of Red Bull Arena with a victory Wednesday night.
They played to a scoreless draw in the penultimate match of the MLS season for both teams before an announced crowd of 15,934.
That left both sides without a ticket to the postseason.
The seventh-place Red Bulls (13-12-8, 47 points) are above the playoff line, but they enter Decision Day in a precarious position, especially if they don’t get the required points. Fifth-place Atlanta (12-9-12, 48) moved to closer to the postseason with the point and draw.
The Red Bulls, who extended their home unbeaten streak to seven games, are 7-1-3 in their last 11 games.
Now, the Red Bulls need to wait until Sunday to clinch a spot in a venue in which the home team, Nashville SC, has not lost this season. Nashville is 8-0-8 at home.
A draw or a win will secure one of the top positions in the Eastern Conference.
The Red Bulls did everything but score Wednesday night, leaving them with some mixed emotions.
For example, Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber loved the way his team played, but did not like the way they finished.
“They made today a great job,” he said. “We dominated the game from the first second in all phases of the game; transition, crossing, everything go correctly in this way, what we prepared the boys yesterday in the training with our match plan.
“The execution in the end was completely misdirection what we want in the end. I think we have to be critical with ourselves, especially how we handled in the moment, chances. This is in the end I think not enough.”
Midfielder Dru Yearwood agreed.
“From minute one, it was pure domination,” he said. “We had the chances to win the game. There’s no excuses. I think in any game of football, whoever’s biggest game of the season, trying to get into the playoffs or whether we’re bottom of the league and scrape in a win or a nothing game. we e have to finish our chances, we have to win again.”
While it will be difficult to get points in Nashville, Yearwood felt if the Red Bulls continued their overall performance from Wednesday night, they should be able to get a point or points in Nashville.
“I think confidence should be sky high,” he said. “We didn’t get a result that we particularly wanted today. But if we play the same, I have all the confidence in the world that will go down and get a result and be where we want to be. I think tonight’s performance honestly as a credit to ourselves and really is it’s just luck on the night. That’s what it seems to be tonight. I’m frustrated. really frustrated. drawing with them. I think you should have come away with three points.”
On the plus side for the Red Bulls Wednesday night, goalkeeper Carlos Coronel recorded his 13th shutout, although he did not have very much to do because New York outplayed Atlanta by such a huge margin. United has never scored in five appearances at RBA.
Struber could not direct the team from the bench due to technical yellow card accumulation so assistant coaches Bradley Carnell and Bernd Eibler ran the show.
The first half was defined by this statement:
One team had possession of the ball most of the time, but couldn’t find the net but for one shot. The other team had problems trying to get possession of the ball.
The Red Bulls were the former side, Atlanta the latter.
Translated: the Red Bulls tried to play, but it appeared that Atlanta didn’t. The visitors struggled from the opening kickoff to the final whistle.
“I would say that I’m half satisfied,” Atlanta head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. “It wasn’t the way we wanted to play. We wanted to have more possession. That was part of the gameplan, but it wasn’t easy tonight. We had a difficult match in front of us with a team that presses with very high intensity. The team did well. I was pleased with the character and determination of the team, winning many duels and securing the second ball at times. I felt that my players were disciplined in those defensive actions. At the end of the day, it’s not always pretty, but we got a good result.”
Red Bulls forward Patryk Klimala had the one shot on target early on, but goalkeeper Brad Guzan saved that attempt in a scoreless opening half.
The home team attempted seven corner kicks in the first half, but could not convert.
Three minutes into the second half, Klimala came as close when he fired a shot off the right post.
Then came what could have been a defining two plays and moments for the host side.
Klimala was awarded a yellow card for slamming the ball in the ground in frustration in the 52nd minutes.
Less than a minute later, he would up on a breakaway but was thwarted by Guzan.
Caden Clark found the net off a deflection in the 54th minute, but the goal did not count because he was offside.
In the 89th minute, Daniel Royer came on for Klimala. Royer, who hasn’t scored since September 2020, might have made his final Red Bulls appearance.