Despite scoring 61 goals during the regular season and featuring two of MLS' best attacking players, the New York Red Bulls were unable to put forth a strong offensive effort in the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.
In their 3-1 aggregate loss to the Montreal Impact, they failed to live up to their regular season form and be the more proactive team over two legs.
In a sense, New York controlled the second leg at Red Bull Arena. They had the edge in shots, 17 to 7, and possession, 65 percent to 35 percent.
"We had the game under control," Red Bulls' head coach Jesse Marsch said in his post-match press conference. "Every statistical category was in our favor."
While that is true, Montreal's game plan was to bunker and cede possession to their opponents. The playoff elimination may be a result of bad finishing, but it's also important to consider Montreal's superior tactics. Dominating statistical categories doesn't mean anything if a team willingly gives them up.
After winning the first leg, the Impact could afford to sit back comfortably with an organized back line and veteran midfield, force the Red Bulls to take low percentage shots, and score a goal on the counter. The most revealing statistic is that New York had four shots on target out of 17, whereas Montreal had an efficient four on target out of seven (which includes two goals on the counter attack from Ignacio Piatti).
The Red Bulls' best opportunity to score came in the 20th minute when Gonzalo Veron drew a penalty. However, Sacha Kljestan's effort was saved. Later in the half, Veron created enough opportunity by forcing a turnover in the defensive third, but Kljestan pushed his shot wide. On a different day, the Red Bulls score both of those and have booked a spot in the Eastern Conference Final.
"I think we probably dominated in every category except for goals in this series," Sacha Kljestan said after the match. "So to come away with one goal in two games is not enough for us. We are typically a higher scoring team, so the chances were there, possession was there, being dangerous was there, and just the goals weren't there."
After a successful regular season that saw the Red Bulls bounce back from a 1-6 start to finish in first place in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League, they were unable to get it done when it counted. For all of their success and productivity over a 34-match season, they struggle to reproduce over a shorter length of time.
Perhaps there's a big retool coming in the offseason or simply the adoption of more tactical versatility to combat matches when the Red Bulls are misfiring. The 2016 season is over, but there are important matches in February and the team needs to be firing on all cylinders.