For the third year in a row, the New York Red Bulls are headed to the post-season. In their last home game of the 2012 season, RBNY battered the visiting Sporting Kansas City with a high pressure, high intensity attack. The game ended a 0-0 draw, but the result—combined with DC's victory over Columbus—was good enough to ensure a playoff berth for the Red Bulls.
While the sold-out game was dubbed Fan Appreciation Night, the team took time to honor Red Bulls youth soccer coach Michael Jones in their first game since his death. The team wore black armbands and #6 shorts for the game, and a "moment of celebration" was held before kickoff. Donations were taken throughout the night for the foundation set up in his name.
Unwilling to let themselves be dominated as in the last two meetings with Sporting, the Red Bulls controlled the game from whistle to whistle. With Dax McCarty and Lloyd Sam occupying the wings and the Cooper/Henry pairing up top, the attack was constantly buzzing in front of the goal. New York combined for five shots on target and held 64% of possession—it was only an inspired performance by SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen that prevented the home side from getting onto the score sheet.
Even defensively, New York looked the better of the two sides, with Rafa Marquez returning to the lineup in a centerback role and helping to calm the back four. SKC would only be held to a single chance on goal, which only game after 85 minutes of play. A snap header from Kei Kamara could have stolen the game, but it was deflected away by GK Luis Robles.
The 0-0 result was not enough on its own to guarantee the Red Bulls their playoff spot, but DC United's stoppage time victory over the Columbus Crew would finalize the playoff field in the Eastern Conference. (It's doubtful New York supporters will be thanking anyone from RFK.) The final seeding of Kansas City, DC, Chicago, New York, and Houston will be decided following the final round of play over the next week. The Red Bulls currently sit in fourth place, but would likely hurdle into third place with a win in Philadelphia next week - helping them to avoid the play-in game between 4th and 5th place.
While this will be the third straight post-season for New York under coach Hans Backe, history has not been in their favor when it comes to the MLS Cup. In 2010, the Red Bulls were the top seed in the Eastern Conference—but after winning the first leg on the road, dropped a terrible 1-3 result at home at the hands of the San Jose Earthquakes. (Why was San Jose battling in the Eastern Conference brackets, you ask? Let's just say the MLS Playoffs have rarely made sense.) In 2011, the Red Bulls finished in the final playoff spots, and while they triumphed in the play-in over Dallas, they fell in both legs to Western Conference champions LA Galaxy. (Why were NY battling in the Western Conference brackets, you ask? See above.)
This will be the 13th postseason berth for New York, the only original MLS side who still does not have a major trophy in the trophy case. It will take five (or possibly six) games to correct that hole in New York's record; if they can keep playing as they did Saturday night (and maybe scoring a few), this may just be the year New York grabs the cup. But after an up-and-down 2012, that's a very big "if".
Hans Backe: "It's definitely one of the better games so far that we've played. Over 90 minutes, that intense, a lot of energy...many many chances to score, and of course we should've won the game three, four nil, that would've been a normal result. We closed them down until the 85th minute, they had their first chance. One of the few games you can say you're pleased when it ends 0-0, but I must say I'm very pleased with our performance today."
Tim Cahill on shoring up the defensive effort: "We're becoming good at the right time. I suppose it's one of them ones where we threw the kitchen sink at them but it didn't seem to fall. But I'm really happy, because like I said last week, defensively was the main thing that we needed to fix. If we're working harder in the midfield, and the back line are working hard, they regrouped with Heath left back, Rafa come in, and young Connor come in...so, the main thing is to defend first. I've said it time and time again that we will score goals. We've got some good individuals, got some good players that will score goals. But we can't keep conceding - 15 goals in the first 5 minutes in games is not acceptable. And tonight, that's what we should be all about."
Thierry Henry on seeing the attitude he wanted from the team: "I thought we played better. I'm never happy if we don't win, but sometime you have some draws where, especially the way we played against the top teams since the beginning of the season...if you remember Seattle, when we were playing against Seattle, when we were playing against San Jose. We scored, but we never controlled the game. The way we played against [Kansas City] the other day and at their place, we never in control of the game. I thought tonight, we were in controlled of the game. We were creating a lot of chances, although Kei Kamara had one at the end maybe to win it. I thought for once, we showed good attitude. After you win or you lose, you never know, but we had some really good chances in the first half that I thought - I already had my hands up to celebrate. Overall, I thought the attitude was right right from the start to the end."
Dax McCarty on the "complete performance": "Last time we played them, we gave up two early goals. Let's call a spade a spade - they're the best team in the league defensively. There's no question about it. Tonight, we carved them open maybe three or four times. Sometimes we played the ball around them creating some good chances, but other times we played more direct, and it was effective. Kenny was a beast holding up the ball for us and creating chances. Tim Cahill obviously wins a lot of second balls. Lloyd is just very dangerous one-on-one, and I just try to put myself in good spots when I play out wide. I think it was a very complete performance for us...Jimmy Nielsen stands on his head, and certainly earned them a result tonight with a Man Of The Match performance."
Dax McCarty on the atmosphere: "Absolutely incredible. The best I've ever seen Red Bull Arena. Fans were loud the whole game long, it really gives you a little boost, really makes you want to run that extra mile for them because they're behind you the whole game. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think our fans are fantastic. Sometimes Red Bull Arena isn't as full as we would like it to be, but tonight they came out and showed that when this place is full, it's - no question - the best stadium in the league. They were tremendous for us."
Next Match: Saturday, October 27th 1:30 PM, at Philadelphia (TV: NBC)