Only a sports franchise with a love of irony could hold a Fan Appreciation Day like the New York Red Bulls. Coming into their final regular season home game hot, few fans felt appreciated after the listless Red Bulls suffered a humiliating 3-1 loss at the hands of the Columbus Crew.
"They were better than us, by a distance." repeated Thierry Henry after the match.
The Crew controlled the first half, as the typical suspect defending from the Red Bulls allowed the Crew to run up the score and silence the home crowd. Aaron Schoenfield's inability to trap a ball proved to not be an issue when no defenders cared to close him down, allowing him to open the scoring in the 17th minute. Ethan Finlay didn't have a problem running into the box when Roy Miller gave up on a play, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead after 34 minutes.
The Red Bulls would start to look alive after Lloyd Sam would fire a laser into the far corner of Steve Clark's goal, cutting the margin to one with plenty of time to spare. But Clark would stand strong to prevent the Crew from allowing an equalizer, and once again, the defensive line of the Red Bulls would switch off, allowing Schoenfield to put in a dagger ten minutes from the final whistle.
Coach Mike Petke struggled to find a rationale for the lopsided result after the game: "It could be any number of things… Columbus looked motivated, more motivated than us. We were chasing shadows a lot of the time. It could be making the playoffs, a little bit of a letdown… it could be, no more excuses, but guys are tired, who knows. There are a million things it could be. But we lost a game. We move on."
The result practically assures the Red Bulls will be forced into a mid-week play-in game, most likely on the road. Only a win in Kansas City next weekend and Columbus losing at home to Philly would allow them to sneak into third place to battle New England. Then again, perhaps going on the road is better: the Red Bulls have lost all four home playoff matches since Red Bull Arena opened in 2010.
No matter what their path towards MLS Cup might be, fans will hope the performance against the Crew was the exception and not the rule.
Next Match: Sunday, October 26th 8:30 PM, at Kansas City (TV: ESPN2)