The 11th straight trip to the postseason for the New York Red Bulls ended the same way as the previous 10 — without a shot at the club’s first championship.
After clawing its way to the No. 6 seed late in the season to avoid a play-in game, the Red Bulls were unable to escape the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, failing to capitalize on an early advantage and falling to Columbus Crew SC on the road, 3-2.
Playing under new coach Gerhard Struber for the first time, the Red Bulls allowed the Crew to equalize not long after an early goal by Caden Clark, and Columbus added two more in the second half. Brian White scored late to keep the Red Bulls alive, but the third goal never came, ending the team’s season.
The Red Bulls have made the postseason in all but four of their 25 seasons, dating to the club’s days as the MetroStars, but are still looking for their first title. They’ve reached the conference finals just once in the last five years and have not played in an MLS Cup final since 2008.
"I think that this club has really high standards and we have to take that next step," said Red Bulls captain Sean Davis. "We're gonna look at ourselves first, but this is a club where it's not good enough just to make the playoffs. It's not good enough in that locker room, we know that. That's something we're going to look in the mirror and we need to be better."
The 23rd minute featured the Red Bulls getting on the board first with a quality finish from 17-year-old Clark. The prospect ran onto a deflected cross near the penalty spot and finished with his left foot over the defense and into the top right corner.
That moment of brilliance from Clark, however, didn’t do much to inspire his teammates.
A few minutes later, Dru Yearwood was called for a foul in the box, and the Crew were awarded a penalty. Pedro Santos stepped up and slid one past Red Bulls keeper Ryan Meara into the bottom right corner to equalize.
The Red Bulls kept the score even until halftime, but the Crew didn’t allow it to stay that way for much longer. Immediately after kickoff to begin the second half, Columbus was on the front foot with an attack in the box. A shot by ex-Red Bull Derrick Etienne Jr. was stopped by Meara, but not corralled, and Darlington Nagbe sprinted forward to make Meara pay with a 46th-minute rocket.
"The goal after the halftime break give some players a knife in the heart and many players were shocked in this moment," Struber said. "We lose momentum and we lose control in the game."
Columbus picked up some needed insurance in the 68th minute on a soft header by Gyasi Zardes, who got above Red Bulls right back Kyle Duncan to win the ball and beat Meara to the far post. White inched the Red Bulls back into the game in 90th minute, poking a ball from Jared Stroud into the net with a sliding shot. The Red Bulls kept up their fight late, but Columbus wouldn’t relinquish another.