It’s the dream matchup many soccer fans wanted, and thanks to Daniel Royer’s brace, the two best teams in Major League Soccer will meet with a trip to MLS Cup on the line.
On Sunday, the New York Red Bulls overcame a one-goal deficit scoring three times to defeat Columbus Crew 3-0 and 3-1 on aggregate. Red Bulls will face Atlanta United, which defeated New York City FC 4-1 on aggregate.
Played in front of 22,789 at Red Bull Arena, the offensive hero of the day was Daniel Royer who finished the match with a brace and an assist.
Trailing by a goal on aggregate coming into the match, New York leveled the score in the 17th minute. Sean Davis sent a set piece kick to the far post where Royer headed it back in front of Zack Steffen’s goal. Aaron Long would redirect toward net where Alex Muyl would get the slightest of touches for the goal.
“Getting the goal in the first half, it’s good to relieve that pressure for the guys against a team that we knew would be organized and hard to break down,” said Chris Armas, New York’s head coach.
Coming out of halftime tied at one on aggregate, the level of play between the clubs was more even than the first half when the Red Bulls dominated. A Columbus goal would give the Crew a major advantage.
In the 73rd minute, New York would take its first lead of the two-leg series. Following a patient buildup that included an intricate passing play, Kaku fed Royer who beat Steffan from in close to put the Red Bulls ahead.
A much-needed insurance goal came three minutes later with Kaku and Royer again involved, with the latter finishing from about 20 years out. The brace was Royer’s sixth of his career in all competitions.
“It’s a great feeling to help the team,” he said. “At the end, it doesn’t matter who scores. It was a great team performance and that’s what counts, and I think we did a really good job in the 90 minutes today, and I think it’s well deserved.”
Up next for Red Bulls is Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference finals. Leg 1 is set for Sunday, November 25, at Atlanta with Leg 2 at Red Bull Arena on Thursday, November 29. The winner will host MLS Cup.
“They’re such a good team, and they are so possession-based,” said defender Aaron Long said. “Trying to limit time and space for them and their great players is going to be tough, but we’ve done it before and we can do it again.”