The New York Red Bulls added another heartbreak to an already lengthy resume via a loss to Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup Final.
“I’m just gutted for the organization and the fans, because it’s a heartbreaking moment.” This, per the ESPN Staff, is what New York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch told reporters following the team’s 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup Final at Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday night. It was a movie Red Bulls fans have seen far too many times over the years, and it played out as any pessimistic supporter of the club could’ve predicted.
New York started out with poise and purpose, and the visitors teased striking first during the opening 20 minutes of play. A defensive error caught the Red Bulls midway through the frame, as Latif Blessing was gifted with a free header inside the box that beat goalkeeper Ryan Meara even though Meara got his hand to the ball. While New York had multiple opportunities to land an equalizer following the break, every strike was delivered directly to KC’s Tim Melia.
There was a touch of peace in Daniel Salloi blowing past an unsuspecting Sal Zizzo before guiding the ball past Meara to double KC’s advantage in the 66th minute. At least the estimated 300 away supporters who journeyed to the middle of the country and New York fans watching on television knew what they were about to suffer at that point.
A cruelty of false hope filled the hearts of the New York faithful early into stoppage time when Bradley Wright-Phillips forced a rebound into the back of the net to bring the deficit to a single tally. That optimism faded into the midwestern sky for good five minutes later, however, after Felipe bombed a free kick over the woodwork to end the visitors’ final chance of entering extra time.
And with that, the Red Bulls remained the only original Major League Soccer side to still never win MLS Cup or the U.S. Open Cup, arguably the two top trophies in North American club soccer since the Supporters’ Shield, which is awarded to teams that finish the MLS regular season atop the league table, is viewed as being lesser than MLS Cup even though Shield winners earn CONCACAF Champions League berths.
The pain experienced by passionate followers of the club is a familiar emotion. A pair of defeats in Open Cup Finals. The loss in the 2008 MLS Cup Final. Multiple playoff losses to rivals D.C. United, including one at home following Hurricane Sandy that included a converted penalty erased because of a correct encroachment decision. The firing of beloved club legend Mike Petke less than two years after he guided New York to the team’s first major trophy. The trading of fan-favorite and captain Dax McCarty literally days after his wedding. Wash, rinse, repeat.
This sentence is being written before New York’s away tilt versus the Columbus Crew on September 23, so it’s difficult to determine the magnitude of a latest setback. Maybe the Red Bulls will fail to qualify for the postseason. Perhaps New York will enjoy a brief run in the postseason before being unceremoniously bounced from the tournament. Maybe RBNY will shockingly catch fire in the fall. Nobody can say with any level of certainty.
As Graham Parker of FourFourTwo.com wrote, Wednesday’s result could signal the end of an era for this version of the Red Bulls. Marsch still hasn’t won the big one. Age will catch up with Wright-Phillips, goalkeeper Luis Robles and captain Sacha Kljestan sooner than later. Marsch could be headed overseas ahead of the opening of the 2018-19 European calendar. The harsh truth of the matter is there are far more questions than answers hovering over the Red Bulls before the start of the playoffs.
Winning a trophy would’ve done wonders, and it would’ve served as a proper sendoff if Marsch and others are destined to make moves from the Red Bulls this coming winter. Wednesday night was only the end of a competition, but it felt like more. It’s on Marsch on his squad to ensure that’s not the case.