The New York Red Bulls are getting hot at just the right time. Continuing what is now a ten game home undefeated streak, the Red Bulls put Toronto to the sword, handing them a 3-1 beating. Goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips, Ruben Bover, and Dax McCarty have New York nearly qualified for the playoffs, while Toronto find themselves looking at an eighth straight year of failure.
A depleted roster brought some lineup changes. International duty deprived the Red Bulls of Roy Miller and Ambroise Oyongo, while a late suspension took Peguy Luyindula out of the lineup. No matter: Petke brought out the same 4-2-3-1 that's worked so well for the team since the late summer, putting Kosuke Kimura and Ruben Bover on the wide left, and moving Thierry Henry into central midfield to serve as playmaker.
Bradley Wright-Phillips hits his 25th goal of the season. A picture-perfect cross from Kosuke Kimura found the Red Bulls striker in the 26th minute to open the scoring.
BWP is now just two goals off the league's single season scoring record with two games to play, but he's certainly not interested in talking about it. "It’s not like I’m thinking about it at home, with two children to look after," Wright-Phillips told reporters after the match. "It’s not until you guys mention it that I think about it, that I have what, three more to get to. I try not to think about it."
Ruben Bover finally made his mark. The Red Bulls would continue to hammer their visitors from the North. A cheeky ball from Thierry Henry - was it a cross? was it a shot? - would be punched poorly by Joe Bendik and not cleared away by Toronto's defence. In only his second start of the year, Bover pounced on the ball, slotting home his first MLS goal and the eventual game winner.
Bover was beaming in the locker room after the match. "It feels amazing. I’ve been waiting since I’ve come here to score a goal and today my parents were here too, so it felt like really important for me so I’m really happy."
Dax McCarty made it three. Just before the half time whistle, the Red Bulls would put the game to bed. Bradley Wright-Phillips may have been looking for his second when he put a shot just wide, but "the Ginger Ninja" was able to get a leg out and deflect the ball past Bendik for his third of the year.
Toronto tried to fight back, but couldn't overcome being "TFCursed". We're not sure which soccer gods Toronto enraged when they were created, but man, they must be pissed. Toronto would pull a goal back early in the second half, as a napping Red Bulls defense allowed Jonathan Osorio an easy tap-in goal.
Outside of that one moment, Toronto was wildly wasteful with their attack: only one of the other fourteen shots was on-target. An 86th minute red card to Nick Hagglund forced Toronto to finish the match down a man, and Michael Bradley's caution for dissent earned him a one game suspension for yellow card accumulation, cementing their collapse at New York. (And when Toronto comes to New York, a collapse always seems in the cards.)
The grim aftermath facing TFC fans: Toronto not only needs six points of six in their final two matches, they need Columbus to lose their final two matches. Should any of that not go their way, Toronto will not make the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year, turning what was supposed to be "their year" into yet another case study in their unique brand of sporting failure. But don't worry, Toronto - at least you're not the Philadelphia Union?
The Red Bulls haven't clinched the berth yet, but may Sunday afternoon. A win or a draw for DC United at Houston would punch the ticket for New York. That's a big ask both statistically (DC is 0-9-1 in their ten trips to Houston) and emotionally. Would Red Bulls fans try, as Portland Timbers fans did earlier in the week, to cheer on their arch-rival in the name of making the playoffs?
"Never, no. Never DC," laughed Bradley Wright-Phillips after the match. "Whatever happens, happens. We’ve just got to do our job."
The Red Bulls will next get to do their job on Sunday the 19th, as they close their regular season home stand against the Columbus Crew. Clinched or not, the final two games will be critical to see if New York can climb to at least third in the Eastern Conference in hopes of avoiding the play-in round.
Next Match: Sunday, October 19th at 3:00 PM, vs Columbus (TV: MSG)