Give them a party and they’ll make you a celebrity! Judging from the noise from the 25, 219 party goers at the sold-out Red Bull Arena on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 27, you’d think that New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petke was the life of the party, that the ex-Red Bulls defender had suited up for the game; they chanted his name because the first-year coach led the team to a 5-2 win over the Chicago Fire and its first major title – the 2013 Supporters’ Shield that goes to the team with the best MLS regular season record.
The MLS Supporters’ Shield was on the line Sunday, and so was the big party fans were expecting, but the Chicago Fire (14-13-7, 49 pts.) stood in the way. By the 6th minute of the contest, there were ominous signs, as it seemed as though the Fire would spoil the Red Bulls gig; MLS leading scorer Mike McGee (21 goals) pounced on a rebound when Red Bulls goal keeper Luis Robles failed to hold on to a hard, low shot to put the Fire ahead, 1-0, but Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry and friends were determine to fete with the fans.
The Red Bulls (17-9-8, 59 pts.) pressed forward and began to take the game to the Fire. In the 24th minute, Peguy Luyindula collected a ball at midfield and sent a high pass to Henry; the former French international and Arsenal (English Premier League) striker took the ball on his chest, let it bounce once and let fly a cracking shot that hit the under-side of the right crossbar and nestled in that corner of the net for the equalizer at 1-1; Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson had no chance for a save. The party was on!
In the 49th minute, forward Lloyd Sam was fouled in the area, and Henry chipped a free kick from about 20 yards for Dax McCarty to head on goal, but Johnson failed to hold on to the ball and Red Bulls defender Ibrahim Sekagya tapped in the winning goal off the rebound for his second goal of the season and a 2-1 Red Bulls lead. Luyindula was at it again in the 56th minute with his second assist when he sent a pass to Sam on the right side; Sam advance toward goal, cut the ball back to his left foot and placed the ball in the far left corner for his sixth goal of the season and a 3-1 one Red Bulls Lead. Yes, the party was really on!
The 68th minute came and saw McCarty pummeled in the penalty box, but no whistle from referee Ismail Elfath, then came the 70th minute when Henry’s breakaway shot was saved by Johnson. Seven minutes later, midfielder Eric Alexander finished his breakaway for his fourth goal of the season when he beat Johnson at the right, near post, courtesy of Luyindula, who registered his third assist of the night, seventh on the season and was named man-of-the-match.
In the 84th minute, Johnny Steele did his dance as the party was in full swing to complete the scoring for the Red Bulls at 5-1: Henry went around a Fire defender and cross the ball from the right side for Steele to receive and score at the far post. The assist was the captain’s ninth of the season. Chicago narrowed the margin with a 90th-minute goal by Quincy Amarikwa off an assist from former Red Bull Joel Lindpere to complete the 5-2 affair.
The party came to a climax with a fireworks display and the playing of the Alicia Keys-Jay Z rendition of the popular New York advertising song, “Empire State of Mind.” The players paraded the 2013 Supporters’ Shield to the fans, who gave them a standing ovation. Petke took to the stadium microphone to thank the partying fans for their support throughout the season and encouraged them to enjoy the win; he thanked team administrators and told the fans “this is for you, guys.”
As the 2013 Supporters’ Shield winner, the New York Red Bulls wins the Eastern Conference, earns the top seed throughout the playoffs and will host the championship game, the 2013 MLS Cup, if it advances to that stage; the Red Bulls also will play in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League. New York area fans finally have a soccer champion!
In other MLS results last weekend, Sporting Kansas City (58 pts.) beat the Philadelphia Union, 2-1, to finish second in the Eastern Conference and earn a playoff berth; the New England Revolution qualified for the playoffs with a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew; Houston Dynamo’s 2-1 win over DC United gave it a playoff berth. Western Conference winner Portland Timbers ran over Chivas USA, 5-0; the Vancouver Whitecaps topped the Colorado Rapids, 3-0; there was a goalless draw between playoff-bound teams Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders; Toronto FC defeated the Montreal Impact, 1-0, and the San Jose Earthquakes bettered FC Dallas, 2-1.