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New York Red Bulls power past Columbus Crew SC to reach Eastern Conference final

HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls may have delivered a subpar performance in Columbus a week ago, but they more than made up for that Sunday.

The Red Bulls advanced to the Eastern Conference final, powering past Columbus Crew SC 3-0 to win their semifinals series 3-1 on aggregate. Daniel Royer led the way for New York in the second leg at Red Bull Arena, bagging a brace, the two goals three minutes apart in the second half. He also set up teammate Alex Muyl’s first-half tally.

“He’s been pushing hard, training well, coming back from an injury, so I’m really happy for Danny to come into a game of this magnitude,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “Coming in with 11 goals, he’s that one-two punch with [Bradley Wright-Phillips]. Great for him.”

The victory in front of the announced crowd of 22,789 means the Red Bulls will meet Atlanta United in the next round of the playoffs. New York, as the Supporters’ Shield holders, will travel for the first leg of the final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Nov. 25 before returning to Red Bull Arena four days later.

Down 1-0 against Crew SC after turning in a disappointing showing in last weekend’s road loss, the Red Bulls pulled even in the series after just 17 minutes Sunday. Sean Davis delivered a set piece into the penalty area from about 40 yards out that Royer met at the back post. He headed a pass to trailing Aaron Long. Onrushing and unmarked, Long fired the ball toward the net, but it ricocheted off Muyl before looping over Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

“It was kind of like a little bit of weight off our shoulders,” Long said of evening the aggregate score. “Now, it’s tied up and it’s game on. It just felt like we’re at home, this is what we do when we get leads, we expand on them, so it felt good.” 

Columbus responded by creating a couple of opportunities late in the opening stanza, including a curled effort by Justin Meram, but was unable to cause too much trouble for New York goalkeeper Luis Robles. 

“When you see 14 open-play crosses, three in the first half, it just wasn’t enough,” Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It wasn’t enough from us.”

The Red Bulls’ defense made sure things stayed tight at the back for most of the second half, and Royer ensured the club advanced with two goals in quick succession.

The veteran midfielder’s first strike came in the 73rd minute when he collected a one-timed pass from teammate Tyler Adams and hit a composed finish past the helpless Steffen.

Royer did more of the dirty work himself to again beat the Crew SC goalkeeper in the 76th minute. Taking a ball played to him by Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra on the play, Royer dribbled diagonally under little duress and hit a floating shot that went over Steffen.

“For me, personally, it’s an amazing feeling. I didn’t want to miss the playoffs,” Royer said. “It was tough coming back and getting injured just a couple weeks before the playoffs.”

Columbus desperately tried to muster up a response and created some late looks, including a stinging shot from Harrison Afful, but could not find the necessary quality in the final third to avoid elimination.

The Red Bulls narrowly beat Atlanta United to win the Supporters Shield, and they know they face a tough conference final. But the Red Bulls also beat Atlanta twice during the regular season, 2-0 at home and 3-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Atlanta is such a good team and they’re so possession-based,” 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 hopefully we can do it again.”

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