The New York Red Bulls marched into Foxboro Saturday afternoon with the task at hand clear. To advance to MLS Cup, they'd need a strong win with at least two goals, without their Golden Boot winning striker. Despite putting together most of that - a strong performance, goals from Tim Cahill and Peguy Luyindula - they could not hold onto the lead, and saw the 2-2 draw end their post-season run. New England advances 4-3 on aggregate thanks to Charlie Davies' two goals, and will face either Los Angeles or Seattle next Sunday.
The scoreline see-sawed back and forth in both halves. Tim Cahill, who replaced the suspended Wright-Phillips at striker, fought hard for the first goal and managed to strike the ball through the legs of Revs defender Jose Goncalves. (We're calling it a "super nutmeg" because a goal like that needs a name.)
Just before halftime, Charlie Davies would bring the home side level again, redirecting a tight cross off what looked like his arm. The ball pinged through a small gap in the defenders, and Luis Robles could not get to it in time to keep the clean sheet.
New York's second goal came off a defensive error, as the Revolution defenders failed to deal with Lloyd Sam's cross. The loose ball fell to Peguy, who swiveled his body and rocketed a shot past Bobby Shuttleworth from close range for his third goal of the playoffs.
With the 2-1 score line putting the series level on aggregate and away goals, it would've been enough for the Red Bulls to ride the result to extra time. But Charlie Davies would again pester the back line, and a New England attack that the defense couldn't suitably kill off ended with Chris Tierney curling another cross in to Davies. His free header would again push New England into the lead on aggregate.
With fifteen minutes left in their season, New York threw everything forward, needing one last goal pull ahead on aggregate. But the goal wouldn't come: only the final whistle, signaling the end of a rather odd season.
There are a lot of unresolved questions that needed to wait for the offseason, so here's our annual attempt to write the closing chapter to the 2014 New York Red Bulls season:
Who gets the blame for this one?
We're laying this one on the defense. Many have already complained that BWP was the missing ingredient for the finale, and his goal scoring abilities might have allowed the Red Bulls to shoot their way out of Gillette Stadium. However, the offense delivered the two goals they were on the hook for. Stronger discipline in the back, particularly on the second goal, could have sent New York through.
Will Thierry Henry be back?
So much was made of the game potentially being Thierry Henry's final game of his career; french sports newspaper L'Equipe devoted 100 pages this weekend to his career. His 4.5 year contract in New York is officially up, and the Frenchman remained characteristically tight-lipped throughout the season about his future plans.
We'll save the eulogizing over his career until he finally announces what he's doing, but from our perspective, the likely next step is retirement. While Henry still has tremendous skill on the ball (see his assist to Cahill on the first goal), the wear and tear on his body may be too much. There's a slight chance he could re-up or head to another club (the sentimental favorite being Arsenal), but with little else left to prove, no one would begrudge him hanging up the boots.
Henry has always been a tremendously fun, combative interview in the locker room. We regret not being part of what could be his final media scrum, where he dropped the mic as only he could:
UPDATE: With little fanfare, Henry announced on Facebook Monday morning that he will not return to RBNY in 2015.
Will Tim Cahill be back?
This is the more interesting question than Henry's future. Cahill's career is not quite done, but he has not fit into New York's 4-2-3-1 system that lead to their late season run. Cahill was elusive on his plans for next year: "Who knows mate? You know. I’m going to have a little break with the kids. Chill out. I’m going to play in Asia Cup and try and do well for my country."
While Cahill had a spectacular 2013 for the club, his sour 2014 means we wouldn't be surprised to see him out the door for next season.
Is Andy Roxburgh, the team's sporting director, out the door?
Almost assuredly. Roxburgh's two year contract ends this year, and we've heard strong evidence that he won't return.
What are Mike Petke's chances of survival this offseason?
Hard to gauge, especially in light of Roxburgh's potential departure. Petke has performed above expectations in his two seasons as head coach, but with a change in leadership coming, it's impossible to forget that he wasn't the club's first choice in refilling the role after sacking Hans Backe. The wildcard here is Red Bull's global sporting director Gerard Houlier, who rarely speaks publicly about how the club is performing.
How much rebuilding does this team do in the offseason?
We'll defer to a quote from Petke's post-match press conference:
"I know exactly what I see, and I know exactly what our plan is, as we’ve talked about leading up to this. I don’t think I’m ready to talk about that right now, but we have a very good plan for the future, and it is going to take understanding from our fan base, understanding from the media perhaps. We want to build something, I want to build something, and I think that we have a good idea of how to do that."
With question marks over both Henry and Cahill, Petke may be pushing to build his own "project" and push the roster towards younger talent - but that requires the higher ups to agree with his vision.
Will next season be any different?
Beyond the potential of having no designated players at some point during this off-season, there are a few other structural changes to mull over. With no World Cup next year, the Red Bulls will suffer a bit less from international departures. With no CONCACAF Champions League berth, they won't suffer from another brutal September.
We are also required by soccer journalism law to mention that NYCFC is entering the league next year, although the biggest threat the team in Harrison presently faces from them is the upcoming Expansion Draft.
Can you call the 2014 Red Bulls season a success?
A success, no. Having bombed out of both the Open Cup and the Champions League, and with the Shield out of reach in late summer, MLS Cup was all they had to play for. They certainly came close to making the Cup final for just the second time in club history, but close doesn't fill the trophy case.
But there were notable successes throughout the year, mostly in the form of breaking curses. No longer will Gillette Stadium plague them as being a venue the team can never win at. They overcame their "can't win playoff games at Red Bull Arena" funk, defeating both Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United. They knocked out D.C., their biggest rivals, in what may have been the most cathartic post-season series in club history. And while he may not get recognition as league MVP, Bradley Wright-Phillips won the first Budweiser Golden Boot in club history.
Head Coach Mike Petke: "I am so freaking proud, so proud of my guys for these two games, especially today. How they came with this energy, and this attitude, and listened to the game plan, and deserved to win. Not taking anything away from New England, New England did a great job, they got it done. [...] We lost today, and I wish New England the best. They gave us a hell of a series. I think this was a phenomenal game for all who watched. We did enough to win, but at the end of the day we didn’t."
Forward Tim Cahill: "It’s just disappointing. I still think that we were the better team. Over of the two legs they deserve credit. They took the opportunities but for us it’s just disheartening because we’ve worked so hard to put ourselves in this position and if we don’t concede two goals we win 2-0. If a few of us put away some more chances maybe we take it into extra time. Yeah, it’s pretty hard to take because I thought we played well and obviously we put them under a lot of pressure. But its football so you have to really give them credit. Today, their fans were brilliant and so were ours and they ended up victorious but it’s just one of those ones that you want to try and forget as soon as possible."
Goalkeeper Luis Robles: "Last year was just strange because we couldn’t actually believe we were out - way more shocked. This one was tough because the guys battled so hard. It was a pretty emotional rollercoaster going towards the end of the season until this point. And the belief was infinite. We really thought we were going to make it all the way to the final. We thought that were going to get the result that we wanted today and right now it’s just very difficult to process."
Great effort tonight boys. Unfortunately not enough. Thank you to all the fans for coming to Boston. #bigrespect
— Thierry Henry (@ThierryHenry) November 30, 2014
Tough way to end the season but we gave everything we had. Cant thank the fans enough for their support today and all season long! #RBNY
— Ryan Meara (@RMeara_18) November 30, 2014
Gutted. This is a cruel game sometimes. Proud of the character and fight we showed. Not meant to be. Wishing NE the best of luck in MLS Cup.
— Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11) November 29, 2014
To the fans who made the trip and those who have supported us all season, a heartfelt thank you for everything. We will be back. #RBNY
— Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11) November 29, 2014
— Damien Perrinelle (@DamP_92) November 30, 2014
Home at midnight, just finished re watching the game with a much needed drink. Be proud of this team. Good night and thank u for ur support
— @petkemike (@petkemike) November 30, 2014