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Red Bulls-Crew Preview
The New York Red Bulls achieved the most impressive regular season in league history a year ago, but it still ended exactly like each of their previous 22 - without an MLS Cup.
The Crew's season ended at the hands of the Red Bulls, and they'll open 2019 in Columbus - as well as many more to come - after a new ownership group purchased the team just before the New Year and announced the club will not relocate.
In a conference semifinal playoff rematch from last season, Caleb Porter will make his Crew coaching debut Saturday against a motivated Red Bulls team that is looking to make another run for a title.
New York went 22-7-5 in 2018 to rack up a league-record 71 points and earn its third Supporters' Shield in six seasons, yet it again fell short of an elusive title, falling to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference finals. Again, much of the core returns for the Red Bulls, led by the ageless Bradley Wright-Phillips, center midfielder Kaku, 2018 MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long and veteran goalkeeper Luis Robles.
While Wright-Phillips' 20 goals ranked third in the league and Kaku's 15 assists were tied for sixth, New York's 2018 success stemmed from its defense. The Red Bulls surrendered just 33 goals - 11 fewer than the next-closest team in the East - with Robles recording 16 shutouts to trail only Tony Meola's MLS record of 21 in 2000.
The Red Bulls have to replace defensive midfielder Tyler Adams, who signed with Germany's RB Leipzig, and are hoping 19-year-old Cristian Casseres Jr. is up to the challenge. New York is counting on another teenager, 18-year-old Danish forward Mathias Jorgensen, to take some of the pressure off Wright-Phillips.
"Just continuing where we left off," Robles said. "Some of it is unfinished business with the MLS Cup. We maintained a huge core of our team, guys who understand what we're about, what the culture and personality of what this organization is. So in a way you're hoping that gives us a competitive advantage."
Despite their 2018 success, the Red Bulls ran into problems against the Crew, losing and drawing their two regular-season meetings before a 1-0 loss in the first leg of their playoff series they followed with a 3-0 win in the second. That ended up being the final game as Crew coach for Gregg Berhalter, who has taken over the U.S Men's National Team.
Porter was named his successor in early January to cap a tumultuous week which began with Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam agreeing to take over the Crew and keep them in Columbus.
Federico Higuain returns for his eighth season manning the center midfield position and Zack Steffen is back in goal after earning 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors. On the attack, Gyasi Zardes is looking to build on a breakout 2018 season with 20 goals for a Columbus team that went 14-11-9.
"Preseason's done now, we are still 0-0, we don't have a point yet, and we've not played a game," Porter told the league's official website. "Nothing matters now except the next game and the Red Bulls and we are well aware of that."
Updated February 28, 2019