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MLS Playoffs

NY Red Bulls Blast Past Shellshocked D.C. United

Mike Petke's men looked like a team on a mission in Sunday's comprehensive 2-0 victory over D.C. United in Red Bull Arena. Brian Sciaretta offers insights on the contest.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 03, 2014
8:58 AM
THE NEW YORK RED BULLS put on a terrific performance in Sunday's 2-0 win over arch-rival D.C. United in the first leg of its Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Just days after dethroning Sporting Kansas City, New York is playing with surprising intensity and is in prime position to now send the top team in the Eastern Conference packing.

The opening half was an entertaining affair with back and forth action that saw high-quality opportunities from both teams. It wasn’t until the 40th minute the scoreless draw was broken in memorable fashion.

The sequence began with Lloyd Sam making a run up the middle. His crisp pass into the box found Thierry Henry who then made a play that showed why he is one of the most visionary players of his generation. The Frenchman quickly made a blind backheel pass that Péguy Luyindula dummied and instead let roll to an onrushing Bradley Wright-Phillips.

The MLS Golden Boot winner made no mistake with the finish past a helpless Bill Hamid. It was Wright-Phillips' third goal of the postseason—a worthy followup to his record-tying 27 goals in the regular season.

In the second half, the Red Bulls created chance after chance only to just come up short of a second goal. In the 73rd minute, however, the home team put the contest out of reach.

Again, it was Henry who displayed his magical flair. Standing just inside his own half, it seemed as if he was not in position to make a dangerous play. But he took one dribble into the middle of the field and hit a magnificent long ball that found Luyindula making a perfectly timed run past the D.C. United defense. With an impeccable first touch, the 35-year-old Frenchman moved in on Hamid and calmly hit a low shot into the net for a 2-0 lead.

With away goals now a factor, D.C. will feel tremendous pressure next weekend in the 2nd leg at RFK Stadium. If the Red Bulls can manage just one goal on the road—which seems likely considering its high-powered offense—D.C. will need to score four to advance to the next round.

THE COACH OF THE YEAR DEBATE in MLS this year centers on Ben Olsen, Bruce Arena, Sigi Schmid, Oscar Pareja, and even Jay Heaps. Mike Petke, however, is having a remarkable season and deserves consideration too.

No, the Red Bulls were not in contention for the Supporters' Shield—which the team won in 2013—but the coach faced numerous challenges this year and showed tremendous resolve to overcome them.

  • There is growing uncertainty about the Red Bulls Corporation as an MLS owner.

  • The franchise refused to sign a third designated player despite playing in the league's biggest market.

  • Ownership balked at creating a USL franchise to help foster its promising youth program.

  • Thierry Henry’s likely retirement, Tim Cahill’s disappointment in being benched, a slew of aging players, and next year's arrival of New York City FC have all provided distractions throughout the season.

    Despite all of this Petke has held the Red Bulls together. The team emerged from the extremely tight Eastern Conference playoff race intact and is playing its best soccer at the start of the postseason. D.C. United looked completely shell-shocked in Sunday’s loss. It was almost as if Olsen’s team was caught off guard by the Red Bull players’ intensity and aggressiveness. Full credit for all of that must go to Petke who has this team playing with a chip on its shoulder.

    So what will Petke’s game plan be for next weekend’s second leg? I would not expect the Red Bulls to sit back to protect its two-goal lead—that would open the door for a momentum swing. If the Red Bulls can score early and add an away goal, giving ita 3-0 aggregate advantage, that would likely ends the series.

    This is a veteran team and it smells blood. Look for the Red Bulls to try to finish it off early.

    Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.
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