Despite the cold weather and the State of Emergency that was declared in NJ following a snowstorm which left half a million without power, the Red Bull fans came out to support their boys in the first leg of the Western Conference playoffs, against top seeded LA Galaxy.
The teams had met a few weeks ago and that game saw RBNY control every aspect of the match, victoriously defeating the Galaxy 2-0. One must point out that LA Galaxy were missing their full squad at the time, and had played sans Donovan and Keane, but this time around, they had a full squad and certainly a team that had come to RBA with a clear mission at hand.
Backe seemed confident during training earlier in the week, and was relying heavily on the skills of Luke Rodgers. With that being said, the RBNY line up saw the duo of Rodgers and Henry upfront; a midfield consisting of Lindpere, Tainio, Marquez and Richards. The defensive line included the likes of Miller, Ream, Keel and Mendes and trusty GK, Rost.
From the minute the whistle blew, one could tell that LA Galaxy were much stronger with their full squad, and that meant that the Red Bulls had to step up their intensity. Sadly, the truth is that RBNY seemed flat during the first half. Don’t get me wrong, there were some worthy attempts by both sides but the Galaxy seemed in complete control.
It all started with a header from Stephen Keel in the 4th minute; unfortunately it would be stopped by Saunders without any effort. Miller and Lindpere stepped up putting on pressure in the box, but the defensive skills of the Galaxy made finding the net seem impossible. As the 12th minute rolled around, LA Galaxy were on the hunt starting with a ball from Keane that hit the sidebar, bounced back and as Magee went for a second attempt, it was a ball that was just too high. But Magee would find revenge in the 15th minute as he found the net, leaving Rost speechless.
Both Rodgers and Henry tried repeatedly to find the net, for many a fan, this was described as “the first time they saw Henry playing for the shirt.” Needless to say, all the antics and acrobatics were not enough to get RBNY an equalizer before the halftime whistle blew.
The second half saw a more determined RBNY squad enter the field; numerous opportunities from Rodgers, Mendes, Rafa and Henry that could not be completed left the crowd anxious. To add insult to injury, the conditions on the pitch certainly did not help RBNY in their attacking mode, as players kept sliding and tripping on the pitch that seemed slightly torn up in certain spots following the snowstorm.
As four minutes of extra time was announced, the game started getting more physical, with the frustration in the RBNY squad becoming more than evident. As the final whistle blew, an incident occurred which has now left both squads sans a player for Thursday’s second leg; red cards were issued to both Rafa Marquez and Juninho during the post game; a scuffle had erupted as the players were exiting the field: Rafa Marquez threw a ball at Donovan, which in turn riled up Juninho, and as his elbow found Keel’s mouth, the defender was down. With a bloody lip, Keel stated; “My brother has hurt me worse. Tensions are high.”
Post game, the reality was evident in both camps. The Galaxy seemed content with their win on the road, but as Beckham stated; “It is far from over, if we could beat them at home, they can beat us at home.” As per losing both Rafa and Juninho, key players such as Henry weighed in on the issue; “It is going to be a difficult task without Rafa.” In a playoff match that carries such consequence, it s always good to have a full squad with all the best players available, but at this point, both squads will have to focus on filling those positions with individuals who can step up to the plate.
For newcomer, Robbie Keane featuring in his first MLS Playoff match, he stated: “It was a tough game; there were a lot of tackles. It is what one would expect from a playoff game.” As per Thursday’s match, Keane seemed confident that LA Galaxy could beat RBNY at home in California.
The second leg of this round will be aired on Thursday night at 11pm EST. For video interviews with Arena, Backe, Keane, Donovan, Beckham and Henry, check out http://www.youtube.com/user/sk8trgirl9?feature=mhee
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