First-year head coach Mike Petke and his New York Red Bulls have come a long way since their first MLS win back on March 30 – a 2-1 home defeat of Philadelphia Union – to last Sunday night’s 1-1 draw at Western Conference leader Seattle Sounders. In between, it has been a roller coaster ride until a month ago, when that ride became much smoother with an undefeated run in the last five games.
The undefeated stretch in September – which started with a 2-1 defeat of DC United on Aug. 30 and included wins over Houston Dynamo (4-1), Toronto FC (2-0) and FC Dallas (1-0) – saw the Red Bulls (15-9-7, 52 pts.) occupy and stay atop the MLS Eastern Conference standings. Its 52 points, best in the league and one point ahead of Western Conference leaders Seattle (15-8-6, 51 pts.) and Real Salt Lake, puts it in running for the MLS Supporter’s Shield, an award given to the team with the best MLS regular season record. In New York’s favor of winning this award is the fact that two of its last three regular season games are at home, with New England and Philadelphia coming to Red Bull Arena, along with a visit to the Houston Dynamo.
The matchup in Seattle, billed as the best in the East versus the best in the West was a true test for the Red Bulls; the West has been recognized as the stronger conference, hence, the Red Bulls had much to prove. The Eastern Conference leader was without captain Thierry Henry, Wright-Phillips and starting defender Jamison Olave, all out with injuries, but Lloyd Sam, Peguy Luyindula and defender Ibrahim Sekagya were more than adequate replacements.
In torrential rain at Seattle’s CentruyLink Park and the usual sell-out crowd, this time of 39,083 fans, the Red Bulls trailed just before the break. Defender Marcus Holgersson was whistled for a hand-ball in the penalty area and midfielder Brad Evans made no mistake from the penalty spot on the stroke of halftime. The home team had the better of the first half, which saw a number of opportunities go astray, including Eddie Johnson’s header in the 26th minute off a Mauro Rosales free kick that went wide and an Obafemi Martins header that missed an open goal. Also, Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles made a big save on Johnson’s left-footed shot that he did well to redirect beyond the left post. Commenting on Martins’ missed header, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said, ‘’Obviously, if you put that one in, it changes the complexion of the game…’’
In the second half, the Red Bulls seemed unaffected by the constant downpour and played even with the Sounders. Petke said he thought the rain helped his players. Midway through the half, Holgersson’s header from a free kick struck the crossbar and two minutes later a Red Bulls shot barely missed the right goalpost. The pressure paid dividends in the 76th minute; midfielder Tim Cahill tied the game for the Red Bulls with his ninth goal of the season when he latched onto a loose ball in the Seattle goal area. The Australian placed his shot in the far right corner of the goal where Sounders goal keeper Michael Gspurning had no chance for a save. New York hosts the New England Revolution on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 7:00 p.m.
In other MLS games last weekend, the Portland Timbers (12-5-13, 49 pts.) defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy, 1-0, on a goal by Maximiliano Urruti, a recent transfer from Toronto FC who scored his first MLS goal. The win kept Portland in third place in the West and gives it a chance for its first playoff appearance. A Robbie Keane goal in stoppage time which would have tied the game, was called back when Keane was adjudged offside.
FC Dallas is out of the playoffs after a 4-2 lost to the Columbus Crew; Dominic Oduro had a goal and an assist to lead the Crew (12-14-5), which is a point away in a tie with the Revolution from the last playoff spot berth in the Eastern Conference. The San Jose Earthquakes (12-11-8) beat Chivas USA, 1-0, on Chris Wondolowski’s goal in the 87th minute. San Jose played the last nine minutes with 10 men after Steven Lenhart was ejected for a bad tackle on Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. Chicago Fire and the Montreal Impact played to a 2-2 draw; Philadelphia Union knocked off Kansas City FC, 1-0; Toronto FC beat DC United, 4-0; Real Salt Lake topped the Vancouver Whitecaps, 1-0; and the New England Revolution and the Houston Dynamo played to a 1-1 draw.
TRINIDAD PRINCESSES WIN
The Trinidad and Tobago Soca Princesses beat Haiti, 1-0, to win the 2013 CFU (Caribbean Football Union Women’s Under-17 championship on Sunday at the Sylvio Cator Stadium in Haiti. Summer Arjoon, the tournament MVP, scored the lone goal in the 40th minute, assisted by captain Zoe Swift and Chevonne John.
According to all reports, Haiti turned on the pressure in the second half, but Trinidad and Tobago did well to defend its one-goal lead. Trinidad’s head coach Marlon Charles reacted to his team’s success: “The game came down to tactics, and being a goal ahead, I wanted to preserve that lead. I had a lot of confidence in my defenders and the way they were cutting out the spaces in the midfield. I cannot say if my plan would have changed had Haiti scored, but they didn’t, so it’s safe to say that it worked. I must also thank Haiti for a good game, and they played well to reach the final.”
Haiti’s coach, James Morisset, who congratulated Trinidad and Tobago, said, “We learned a lot from this game, and it has prepared us well for the CONCACAF Under-17 Qualifiers, and who knows, maybe we will meet Trinidad again for a rematch!” Haiti scored 32 goals in the tournament and conceded only two. Puerto Rico defeated Bermuda, 2-0, to win third place.
Both finalists qualified for the CONCACAF tournament, Oct. 30 through Nov. 9, 2013 in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The complete eight-team field is host Jamaica, Canada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States. The FIFA Women’s Under-17 World Cup is scheduled for Costa Rica in 2014.