Red Bulls Out of Playoffs

by Tom Felice
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Season over despite greatest turnaround in MLS history

It’s amazing how quickly things can change.

The New York Red Bulls 2010 campaign was one of the most remarkable seasons in the history of Major League Soccer. Coming off a 2009 season which saw the Red Bulls have the worst record in the league New York had the greatest turnaround in MLS history, winning 10 more matches than last year en route to winning the Eastern Conference. Along the way the team picked up Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, two stars of international and European club teams.

In the first leg of the two leg aggregate playoff series against the San Jose Earthquakes, the Red Bulls looked phenomenal. New York had the majority of the possession in that match, keeping pressure on the San Jose defense. Joel Lindpere struck the only goal the Red Bulls needed, as the defense assured that four of the last six games would be shutout wins. And then it all fell apart.

Just needing a tie to take the series and advance to the Eastern Conference final, New York came out slow, and Bobby Convey capitalized for the Earthquakes in the 6th minute. Coming into the penalty area a little late on the play, Convey went unmarked by the usually solid Red Bulls defense and cleanly finished to give San Jose the 1-0 lead and knot the aggregate at 1-1. This seemed to jolt the Red Bulls awake, as they had the run of play for the remainder of the first half, but could do no better than hitting the post.

The Red Bulls continued to pressure San Jose in the second half, and just when it seemed like New York would tie, Bobby Convey struck again. Spinning past rookie center back Tim Ream, who played every minute of every game as he anchored the defense, Convey doubled his total and put the Earthquakes in a position to advance in the 76th minute. The Red Bulls needed an attack and they got it from their most expected source.

Juan Pablo Angel, the captain and leading goal scorer for New York nodded home a cross from 17-year-old Academy prospect Juan Agudelo in the 78th minute to tie the series up at two. Angel, who is all but certain he will not return to the Red Bulls next year, was making good on his wish to end his time in New York with an MLS Cup.

Just two minutes after Angel put New York back in it; Bobby Convey sent a floating cross into the Red Bulls penalty area. Chris Wondolowski, the leading scorer in the MLS this year, snuck behind the defense and headed home the Convey cross to give San Jose the edge.

Five minutes, three goals. Despair, joy, despair for the New York Red Bulls. A season worth of hard work ended with a few moments of light defending. A team that hadn’t given up three goals in an MLS Cup match since Memorial Day weekend watched the Earthquakes celebrate a victory at Red Bull Arena.

Despite the loss, 2010 is not a failure for the New York Red Bulls. Coming into a season with low expectations, first year head coach Hans Backe fit the pieces of the puzzle together to win the Eastern Conference. Tim Ream, the rookie center back whose previous playing experience in New York was against Fordham when he played for the Saint Louis Bilikens, was a stalwart on the back line and Estonian Joel Lindpere, a tireless Rottweiler in the midfield, always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. When Marquez, Henry and Mehdi Ballouchy were added to the mix New York stormed into the playoffs, with one loss in their last seven games.

But it only took 90 minutes to end the ride for the Red Bulls. The players and coaches head into the offseason thinking about what could have been. Perhaps the most talented team in franchise history, they didn’t have that stroke of luck or genius when they needed it most. The players will train and the staff will look for more players, always with focus on being ready for that one moment that changes it all.

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