On March 20, 2022, the Columbus Crew went down a goal late to the New York Red Bulls. To add insult to injury, it was an injury itself that made it look like the Black & Gold were doomed to lose on the day. Instead, midfielder Darlington Nagbe scored in the final seconds of stoppage time to steal a point on the road.
March feels like forever ago.
The late storyline for Columbus is that this team is the one allowing late goals to lose points in the standings, but how has New York faired since that day?
To learn the answer to that question, Massive Report spoke with Ben Cork from SB Nation’s Once a Metro. Not only what they’ve been up to but how the end of the New York season looks from the perspective of someone who knows them well.
Massive Report: It’s been a while since these two sides met, all the way back in March when Darlington Nagbe stole a couple of points at the death in Harrison. How would you describe New York’s season with only two matches remaining?
Once a Metro: It’s been a solid season from the Red Bulls but a somewhat strange and muted one. The team sits third place in the conference heading into the final weeks with strong chance of hosting the first round of the playoffs, but the season has never really caught fire at the moments sparks became most intense.
The Red Bulls have a lopsided home and away record, frequently stealing results in other teams’ stadiums while struggling to impose their will on opponents sitting back against them in Harrison. While baseline form has been enough to keep Gerhard Struber’s team in contention, morale has been rocked by multiple rough performances in big games in the cup and league, most recently the 2-0 derby loss to New York City FC.
With the squad starting to pick up a worrying amount of injuries in recent weeks, it’s imperative ahead of the playoffs that the team use the final weeks to find a formational setup that works.
MR: The New York Red Bulls have two matches to play and are comfortably in a home playoff spot, although they’ve been on an odd stretch to end the year. Red cards and up and down results highlight the past month, even though those losses have come against some tough teams. Do you see the recent Hudson River Derby defeat heading into the international break leading to a hangover to end the season? Where do you see the Red Bulls at the end of the regular season?
OAM: As mentioned above, there’s been a light hangover to whole season. But there are some positives that could help New York throw some postseason punches.
While leakier than last season, the Red Bull front-to-back pressing defense is still formidable, and teams rarely create much against them. Even in the team’s collapses this year, the goals have come largely from snap counter-attacks and set piece mishaps, and opponents have to be somewhat lucky to beat New York.
But it’s hard to imagine the team finding a reliable attacking flow at this point in the season after a frequently dire run through 2022, where the Red Bulls themselves have frequently had to rely on the luck of set pieces and wonderstrikes from Lewis Morgan in lieu of a consistent stream of chances.
But hey, luck is what the MLS playoffs are about.
MR: The big name entering the New York squad in 2022 is Brazilian midfielder Luquinhas. How would you grade his inaugural season? Outside of him, who should Crew fans watch for this weekend on this New York playoff side?
OAM: Luquinhas exploded onto the scene in New York with instant production as well as a dominant dribbling presence that set a tone throughout the length of matches. But after scoring seven goals in his first 18 matches with the Red Bulls, Luquinhas has not found the scoresheet since June and only has one assist in that time period as well.
In recent weeks Gerhard Struber has mentioned an attempt to get the Brazilian to play more of a direct passing game, but it does not appear to be helping the former Benfica winger find his groove. Along with fellow talented-but-struggling attackers Patryk Klimala, Caden Clark and Elias Manoel, Luquinhas finally hitting a hot streak would be a key engine to any success the Red Bulls have in the season’s final weeks.