Coming off of Sunday's tight 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena (and the subsequent brawl), the New York Red Bulls needed a victory at Home Depot Center tonight to stay in the playoff picture, something that no other team had managed this year. With tensions high and both Juninho and Rafa Marquez suspended, the game could've gone either way, but LA emerged victorious with a 3-1 aggregate score.
RBNY came charging out of the gate, and the fireworks started in the fourth minute. Thierry Henry fed Luke Rodgers a pass that allowed him to blow past Omar Gonzalez and stunned the home crowd with an early goal. A back and forth first half saw a number of hard challenges, and Teemu Tainio was forced to be subbed off after suffering a hamstring injury. The loss of the Finn weakened NY's defenses, and LA began to press hard. Former Red Bull Mike Magee scored (again!) late in the half off a David Beckham set piece (again!) to put LA back in front on aggregate going into half time.
The second half saw a slower pace to start off, with LA trying to control the pace of the game and grind out a win on aggregate. Juan Agudelo, who complained before the game on Twitter he was "soo thirsty for time", subbed in for Dax McCarty in the 63rd minute, but was unable to make a difference in the match. A sloppy challenge by Roy Miller on David Beckham saw LA awarded a penalty kick, and Landon Donovan easily converted it from the spot. With LA up 3-1 on aggregate, LA sat on their lead and New York's attack was unable to find the back of the net. The final whistle blew, and coach Hans Backe was dealt his first loss in two years when the Red Bulls scored first.
The loss ends RBNY's rollercoaster season and hopes of winning their first major championship in the club's 16-year history. With a practically empty trophy case, both the fans and the management will struggle with major questions over the winter. Can anything be salvaged out of the contract with Rafa Marquez? Should Frank Rost be brought back after his half-year stint? Which players should be protected for the upcoming expansion draft? And what will be done to ensure 2012 won't be another year of what one commentator dubbed "consistent inconsistency"?
LA will face off against Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference finals, while Sporting Kansas City will host the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference finals. The winners will compete for the MLS Cup on November 20th at the Home Depot Center.