Earlier today, fans walked the long drive up to Red Bull Arena. There was no parking near the arena so they walked, most about a quarter mile, to the gates. Some had been coming to games the entire year, more to just a game here and there, and what seemed to be the majority were the fans for the afternoon. But once inside, holding the red towels that they had been given at the gates, they became part of the swirl and roar that was the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Teal Bunbury opened the scoring for the Revolution in the 17th minute with the assist going to Jermaine Jones, but it was early, and no-one in the arena seemed particularly concerned. The Red Bulls were playing well, and when Bradley Wright-Phillips headed the ball in ten minutes later, after a Peguy Luyindula shot, the crowd seemed pleased with itself that it hadn’t panicked earlier.
It had taken the Red Bulls the first few minutes to get started, but once they did, they were strong on the attack, and the backfield held together well. So well in fact that Mike Petke said at the post game press conference that he didn’t see the need to make any changes, even though the teams were drawn 1-1 at that point. Upstairs from the locker rooms, fans crowded into lines for food on the comparatively warm afternoon, so that the sold out arena looked like almost any other match once the second half began. The New England Revolution had brought fans of their own. Packed thick into the away end, they waved their banners and flags, chanted down to the other end of the arena at the Red Bulls supporters section, but even if the rest of the arena was made up of casuals, they were out-roared until Jermaine Jones put the Revolution ahead in the 85th minute.
If there has been a thread to the games in New York this year, not just the Red Bulls, but any of the games, it is that there is a lull that happens, usually between the 75th and 77th minute. Fans get a little antsy, and usually it is then when someone starts a wave that sweeps around the arena some three to five times. It is usually enough.
But at the game this afternoon, there was no wave, although the fans were quieter around this strange period of time, they were too wrapped up in the game to start anything that would take their attention away from the pitch. Once Jones scored though, it was almost as if it were too much, as if the intent focus that they had pointed at the game, the trance or spell even, was broken, and fans slowly stood and left the arena.
There had only been four yellow cards handed out in the first half, but as the game became more aggressive, the second half saw the referee hand out an additional six, one to striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, a yellow for encroachment that will make him ineligible for the second game in the series. A hard card to swallow. Mike Petke didn’t have his traditional smile on his face when he said he wished he had been given a yellow card. That not getting one made him feel left out. It was a case, he said, of a referee who had lost control of the game. And the statistics bear that out. Cards were handed out in the 54th minute, 60th, 63rd, 67th, 77th and 83rd.
The Red Bulls had also missed on four good chances. He refused to name the players or when, but it was obvious to the fans who were walking down the long drive, walking back to their cars parked blocks away. They knew when and who. And they were naming names.
Photo credit: Rob Tringali.
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