Analysis

There's really no explaining the Red Bulls' continued failures

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

New York seems to lose in every possible way come playoff time, leaving players and coaches at a loss for solutions. Paul Tenorio analyzes:

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The result left the New York Red Bulls dismayed.

Somehow, yet again, they were headed home early. A 2-1 loss at home to the Montreal Impact sent the top seed in the East on an early vacation.

“I don't know,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said in the postgame press conference. “I don't know. We dried up. I don't know why. I don't know how.”

I think it’d be pretty harsh to say we choke, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that that’s the case."

- Dax McCarty

Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty was similarly flummoxed. New York has changed its system and swapped its personnel. It got hot at the end of the season, rolling into the playoffs on a 20-game unbeaten streak. And yet it fell short again.

“We don’t make plays when it counts,” McCarty told media members at Red Bull Arena. “I think it’d be pretty harsh to say we choke, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that that’s the case. We usually have pretty good regular seasons, dominant regular seasons, and unfortunately when the playoffs come around we get it wrong in a lot of different areas. Obviously it hurts right now.”

So what exactly is wrong with the Red Bulls? New York has appeared in just one MLS Cup final, a 3-1 loss to the Columbus Crew in 2008. They are one of three remaining original MLS teams to never win MLS Cup, along with Dallas and New England. New York has been a consistent contender over the last few seasons, and yet the Red Bulls haven’t been able to get back to MLS Cup.

Something’s wrong, and Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti made sure everyone knew that after the game.

“We knocked out an important team, but we knew they’re a weak team in the playoffs,” Piatti told reporters. “They showed that last year, they showed that this year. During the regular season, they’re tough, but in the playoffs, they’re not that good.”

There is no easy answer as to what’s wrong with the Red Bulls, and in fact there may not be a clear solution.

The Red Bulls have tried the big Designated Players with commanding personalities. Thierry Henry might be one of the best examples of that type of swagger in MLS history. They’ve gone cheap and young. This year’s team is in the lower half of the league in salary. They’ve played through the build-up and on the counter. This year they’ve been a high-pressing team, but one that also found the right defensive balance.

The easy place to point to is mentality. This is the same Red Bulls team so prone to giving up big leads, after all. But New York has some of the better leaders in MLS, including McCarty. It’s also not a matter of needing another “big-name” Designated Player. The Red Bulls have two of the most productive players in MLS this season, Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips. The pair are two of the three finalists for league MVP this season, leading the league in goals and assists, respectively.

There is no clear connecting theme.

“I think it’s a little bit of different things here and there,” McCarty said. “I can’t really go through all of them in my head right now, but it just comes down to making plays in both boxes.”

Marsch said Sunday night he has no plans to change the way the team plays. They dominated statistically against Montreal, he said. That may be true. (Though I think the Impact chose to play the way it did for a reason.) This isn’t a team that feels like it needs an overhaul. But it needs…something.

The big task at hand is figuring out what exactly that “something” is.

Giovinco is the MVP (duh)

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It seems silly to have to make this argument again, and really it was put to rest on Sunday night.

Sebastian Giovinco is the best player in MLS. He was the best player last year and he is the best player this year. His value to his team and to the league can’t be questioned. Giovinco contributed to 63 percent of Toronto FC’s goals this season. That’s the third-highest total in league history, according to the Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson. How can you better describe what it means to be the most valuable player?

Yet, somehow, Giovinco did not even make the top three finalists for the league MVP award.

On Sunday night, Giovinco registered his fifth hat trick of the season. He sent MVP finalist David Villa home. Across the Hudson River, the other two finalists, Kljestan and Wright-Phillips, were eliminated by another snubbed MVP candidate: Piatti.

After the game, Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney said he thinks Giovinco was motivated by being left out of the top three in the MVP race.

“His priority is winning, but last year he took a lot of pride in MVP,” Vanney said, per Larson. “He was every bit the same player this season.”

It will be interesting to see how the MVP voting broke down at the end of this season. Usually MLS releases the MVP vote broken down by voters: club, players and media. Giovinco dominated all three categories last season, taking 87 and 77 percent of club and player votes and 94 percent of media votes. To drop from those totals to completely out of the picture is absolutely shocking.  

If it sets up a ‘Giovinco proving a point’ tour through the playoffs, though, it might be worth it for pure entertainment value.

NEXT: Jurgen's USMNT youth movement