On Thursday evening, the Red Bulls did the improbable. They won on the road against the same team that they beat on the road last week. And we all know, winning on the road in MLS in difficult. Doing it twice in a row against the same team is unheard of. Previous to last week, the Red Bulls haven’t won in Boston since 2014.
And on top of that, the Red Bulls advanced to the US Open Cup Semi-finals for the first time since 2003. This is the first time the Red Bulls (and not the MetroStars) have advanced this far in the tournament.
But what made this win even more thrilling was the Red Bulls defensive performance, especially considering the shambolic back line that took the field. Across the back, the Red Bulls started Aaron Long, Connor Lade, Sal Zizzo, and Tyler Adams. That’s one center back, two right backs (one with some center back experience in college) and one defensive midfielder.
Most Red Bull fans would have expected this back line to fail miserably. Looking at the lineup on paper, it seemed that Jesse Marsch had gone back to the 3-6-1 that they played in the last Open Cup match. Fans expected a back line of Zizzo, Long and Lade. But that wasn’t the case; Adams joined the back line as a fullback, pushing Lade inside to a true center back role.
This makeshift back line held the Revolution to seven shots, with only three shots on target. And goalkeeper Ryan Meara was able to save each of these shots, leading the team to its second clean sheet in Open Cup play. On top of that, he now holds the record for most starts and most minutes played for the Red Bulls in the US Open Cup.
After the game, Meara had this to say, “We knew it was going to be a battle, and I think we were really up for it tonight. It wasn’t the prettiest game or the best soccer played, but I think we out-battled them – and that’s what got us the win.” And he was right – the back line wasn’t pretty. But it worked.
Yet, it’s another sign that the Red Bulls desperately need to sign a center back during the transfer window. That signing can’t come fast enough as the Red Bulls can’t continue to play this way. They will get burned down the road. And it will probably happen sooner, rather than later. As the Red Bulls roll into the remainder of their Gold Cup break, fans wait with bated breath for the signing.