Last night the New York Red Bulls hosted Sporting Kansas City in the knockout round of the MLS playoffs. It was a chilly evening. Fans clustered in the parking lots before the game laughing and keeping warm, and you had the impression of a much larger crowd than the 15,518 who trickled into the seats. For a midweek game that was added to the schedule on Sunday, scheduled after the Red Bulls beat Kansas City in their last game of the regular season, a game starting at 8:00pm on a school night that kept most families at home, it wasn’t a bad crowd. And they were loud.
Over the supporters end, a banner was lowered celebrating Bradley Wright-Phillips’ 27 regular season goals that tied him for the MLS all-time regular season record. He was cheered onto the pitch and clapped back.
The fans were, as always, loud for captain Thierry Henry as well. If there has been a thread to the end of this season, it is the question as to whether Thierry Henry will be returning next season. Each time you see him, you wonder if it will be the last in a Red Bull shirt.
As Mike Petke said after the game when he was asked yet again if Henry would be returning: “I have to get it tattooed on my head. I have no clue what Thierry’s going to do. I’m not thinking about… No, I’m not thinking about that at all. I’ve said it enough already. Thierry, I think, could play for two more years, whether it be here, whether it be back in England, wherever he decides to play. His contract is up, but I don’t know what he’s going to do. Having said that, I guess if I looked deep down inside myself, in a quiet room in yoga class, and I meditate, and I say ‘wow, I guess this could be Thierry’s last game’ then yes, I’m very happy for him.”
At the half, with the game still scoreless, fans started talking about overtime, so evenly matched were the two teams. “We’re going to get our money’s worth tonight,” said one fan. But when Dominic Dwyer scored to put Kansas City ahead in the 53rd minute, the arena went quiet.
The starting back four of Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya, Richard Eckersley and Roy Miller put together a solid performance for the most part, keeping the Kansas team at bay. Fans were yelling down to the visiting players who were warming up on the sidelines “You’re going to choke like your team did last night,’ referring to the Kansas City loss in the World Series.
In the 77th minute, when Bradley Wright-Phillips connected with a cross that found him in front of the goal, talk of overtime was once again on everyone’s lips. Thierry Henry and Peguy Luyindula were credited with the assists. And while everyone settled deeper into their seats for what they thought would be a long night, the Red Bulls dug deeper into themselves, and scored in the added 4 minutes of extra time, when Ambroise Oyongo connected with Peguy Luyindula, and the ball was sent to Bradley Wright-Phillips for the win.
As Mike Petke said after the game: “There was a point late in the second half where I was questioning if this team was scared of the playoffs. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been saying I don’t believe in any curses, or jinxes or anything like that, but I thought maybe we were just scared of the playoffs. But they proved that wrong, and now they’re happy in the locker room, exhausted, and now it’s on to D.C.”
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Photo credit: Rob Tringali
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