As much as I enjoy seeing the underdog succeed, I am also a realist and strongly believe that teams that have been consistent and hard working all season are far more deserving of clinching a playoff spot than a team that may have been consistent, if one were to count “ties”. Then again, this is no time to delve into my gripe of how the MLS is set up.
It was a night for the history books; a clash considered by many as the “El Clasico” of the MLS Eastern Conference; New York Red Bulls v Philadelphia Union. A match that carried much significance for both teams; RBNY needed a win or a tie to clinch a playoff spot, while the Union, who had already secured their spot were playing for home field advantage.
“The Sons of Ben”-the loyal supporters for the Union made their presence well known at RBA, travelling down with approximately 1000 fans in tow, but the “South Ward” was definitely prepared to bring the noise and ruckus to show their support of the Red Bulls.
With Henry’s suspension following his red card against Kansas City last weekend, there were rumors that Coach Hans Backe was contemplating using Richards as a forward in this crucial match up. It was a decision that would lead to the much needed goal for RBNY, and one that came early in the match; 7th minute to be exact. The ball was a controversial one as it hit the post, then Union GK, Mondragon before hitting the back of the net. The goal was called as an “own goal” to the dismay of Richards, but the fans could not be silenced; RBNY was in the lead, and judging by their history, scoring the first goal is crucial for this team. MLS did review the goal, and corrected the call of the officials at the time; it would indeed be a goal by Richards.
The rest of the match would see RBNY fight for a second goal, with numerous chances at their disposal and an abundance of shots coming from Rodgers and Richards; the duo paired in front for RBNY. Defensively the team played as one; not allowing French National, Sebastien Le Toux anywhere close to the goal, and Backe confessed that that had been one of their main goals.
The second half saw both sides playing a more aggressive game, but RBNY managed to hold onto their lead and defended when it really mattered. As the final whistle blew, both relief and joy filled the faces of the players as they had managed to clinch a playoff spot, despite the inconsistent and somewhat doubtful season they have had. Ream described it best when he said; “Crazy. It has been a rollercoaster for sure, and I never want to experience it again.”
Backe was all smiles in the press conference; “It has been a rough season, but now we are in.” However, he confessed that he never would have thought that the season would come down to the very last game, especially considering the tremendous start they had, but that in order to succeed, key players will need to take chances in the next game.
As for the performance by Richards, Backe was beyond content: “It seems as though Dane has found his peak.” He also stated that other players fear Richards as a striker due to his immense speed on the pitch, and was content with the progress he has made this season; “His runs seem more well timed”. Here is to hoping that Richards and his speediness will be enough to help RBNY cling on to those dreams of raising the MLS Cup.
RBNY is set to face one of three contenders; RSL, FC Dallas or Colorado Rapids next Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the matches this weekend, but if the playoffs were to start today, they would face FC Dallas. Is it the year for the last placed wild card to win the Cup again?
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