By: Marco D'Onofrio
Despite the New York Red Bulls winning the Supporters' Shield for the second time in three seasons, and taking two of three against the Columbus Crew during the 2015 Major League Soccer regular season, they find themselves on the brink of elimination heading back to Red Bull Arena on Sunday.
It took just nine seconds for the Crew to remind Red Bulls' fans of their team's sketchy playoff past, as Justin Meram scored the fastest playoff goal in history, putting his club up 1-0 after just nine seconds.
“It’s a play we work on,” Meram told reporters following the match. “I was just lucky enough that the ball fell to me, and I put it away. Those are moments you wait for in your life, and I’m just blessed and thankful for my teammates and everyone who put me in that position to put that goal in.”
Sunday's match was the fourth time the two MLS charter clubs have met in the postseason, with the Crew winning all four matches. The Red Bulls have won four MLS Supporters' Shield in the club's 20 year history, but have only managed to reach the MLS Cup once, when they ultimately failed to lift the league's most prestigious trophy in 2008, losing 3-1 to the Crew.
However, knowledge has proven to be largely experimental in the past, and even though the Red Bulls find themselves in a difficult situation, they aren't conceding anything yet.
"We have dealt with tough circumstances all year and I think we'll be able to regroup," Red Bulls' midfielder Dax McCarty said after his team's loss. "We'll give it everything we have, we're not giving up. Columbus celebrated like they won the MLS Cup on Sunday, so they should certainly be proud of the result."
The Crew will not have an easy task in the second leg though, even with the 2-0 aggregate advantage. The Red Bulls lost just three times all season at home and with their 62 goals on the campaign, they found the back of the net more times than any other team in the entire league.
But if the past is any indication, we've seen a different Red Bulls team in the playoffs. Head coach, Jesse Marsch, is going to be working all week to ensure his side comes into Sunday's clash in New Jersey with a different mentality. Although, the veterans on the squad already know what's at stake.
“We understand what’s in front of us,” Red Bulls' goalkeeper Luis Robles told reporters on Sunday night. “We’re going to throw everything at them – the kitchen sink – while knowing we can’t concede.
"They won the first half,” he added. “They should absolutely expect us to bring it in the second half.”
Truth be told, New York looked far from the team we saw dominate D.C. United in both legs of the Eastern Conference semi-final, and they could have lost by even more at Mapfre Stadium.
The second leg of the Eastern Conference final kicks off on November 30th at 7:30 p.m. ET, with the home side coming into the match desperate to exorcise their playoff demons once and for all.