A complete 3-0 dismantling of the Houston Dynamo on the road—including a record-breaking fast goal from Tim Cahill—leaves the Red Bulls in control of their own destiny from the MLS Supporters' Shield next Sunday when they close their season at home against Chicago.
With Houston's home fans still filing into BBVA Compass Stadium, New York needed only eight seconds to score the game-winning goal. The kickoff rolled back to Dax McCarty, who launched a long ball to a streaking Tim Cahill. Cahill chested the ball past a defender, and from outside the penalty area, put his laces through the bouncing ball perfectly for a curling blast to the top corner. The stunning goal, officially clocked at 8 seconds, is the fastest in MLS history. Watch it below:
Houston refused to go quietly, as they entered the game just below the red playoff line and desperately needed points to keep their post-season hopes alive. With NY's defensive line in a new configuration - including the insertion of Ibrahim Sekagya and Brandon Barklage who hadn't recently seen minutes - the Red Bulls found themselves constantly under siege. The flailing Dynamo put 20 attempts towards the goal over the duration of the match, although only 3 of them would be on target. Luis Robles still made some impressive saves, and in the process tied the club record for most shutouts in a season (11).
With little possession of the ball, Mike Petke's side picked their chances in the second half and made them count. A corner kick that wasn't properly cleared away was headed back in by Peguy Luyindula, finding a wide open Sekagya for a free header and the second goal of the match. Bradley Wright-Phillips, just back from his hamstring injury, would slip in the third goal after Houston's Jermaine Taylor comedically tried to clear a ball straight into the face of his teammate Corey Ashe. The rebound fell to BWP's feet about 12 yards out, and he would easily put in his first goal for the Red Bulls.
Full highlights of the match:
By completing their clean sweep of Houston, the Red Bulls remain on top of the overall MLS table (16-9-8, 56 points). The MLC Cup playoffs await in November and December, but the Supporters' Shield, awarded to the team with the best regular season record, could find its way into New York's otherwise empty trophy case. With the Shield comes top seeding for each round of the playoffs and an entry in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League.
Three other teams remain in the hunt for the Shield, including Sporting Kansas City, the Portland Timbers, and Real Salt Lake. There are a couple of paths by which New York could bring home the Shield:
- The easiest path is to just win, as gaining three points over the Fire would put them out of reach at 59 points.
- A draw would be enough to ensure both Portland and Real Salt Lake cannot catch them, but would require Sporting Kansas City to not win their last match.
- A loss could still see the Red Bulls grasp the Shield if none of the other three teams get a win in their final match.
The scenarios will become a little clearer by the time the game kicks off next Sunday, as RSL hosts Chivas on Wednesday, Sporting Kansas City travels to Philadelphia Saturday afternoon, and Portland travels to Chivas on Saturday night. If all three results somehow go New York's way, the Red Bulls could win the Shield Saturday night - but this seems unlikely, as Chivas is terrible.
For long-suffering Metrostars and Red Bulls diehards, Sunday's match will easily be the most important in the history of the club. 18 years of defeatism, pessimism, self-deprecation, the Curse of Caricola, the phrase "That's so Metro" - it can all be erased if the team can put together one more solid 90 minute performance. Of course, that perpetual creeping doubt exists because this team has been close to winning before, and failed spectacularly in the process.
Victory will send Red Bulls supporters over the moon, and practically guarantee that Mike Petke will be deified by a fan base that already considers him a club legend. Failure will break hearts at an unimaginable scale. Either way, Sunday will be a night that lives in NYC soccer history for years to come.
Tim Cahill on his record-setting goal: "I was ready to take the kickoff with Thierry but then I thought we were practicing in training getting it back to Dax and fizzing it out wide. Peguy came up, Thierry played it back, and Dax fizzed it into me on the wing. I jumped, and I thought should I head it to Thierry or bring it down on my chest. Once I saw the player too far away, I controlled it in my direction and then boom back of the net. It was a great feeling because of the goal meant for us to settle into the game immediately. We didn’t have to chase the game and keep our position. For me it was a special goal and I’ll never forget it because of the meaning of what it meant to our team and our football club."
Mike Petke on the lineup changes: "I think it worked out well but it was tough for me to do because we’ve been on an unbeaten streak for a while with certain players. But when we talked and looked at the environment we were coming into and the size that they had. I thought it was important to get Ibrahim on the field with his experience and he had been playing great in practice and putting Marcus out wide because of his size and far post crosses. Plus Peguy has been holding up the ball great in practice and I thought he did well today. And Cahill with all the traveling, we wanted to get him closer to the goal instead of running from 60 yards behind the ball in the midfield. I think it worked out well. But like I said, none of the players who didn’t start the game did anything to not start it was just a part of the game plan."
Tim Cahill on the team controlling their destiny: "It means a lot. We were controlling our own destiny today before the game. If you want to win something then it’s there for us to take and for us to throw away. We didn’t put too much emphasis on putting pressure on ourselves. This week, midweek, it was very light. We had a three team tournament. We weren’t thinking too much about the supporters shield and what the game meant. We had a light day yesterday. We haven’t out too much pressure on ourselves. We went out there and enjoyed the game and you could tell by the result. We worked hard and worked for each other. It’s a big moment for us to be in this situation."
Next match: Sunday, October 27, 5:00 PM, vs Chicago Fire (TV: MSG)