New York seemed to be on cruise control Saturday at Red Bull Arena, about to become Major League Soccer’s first, official playoff participant on Saturday – when it all went sideways … about four different ways.
Mike Petke’s team did enough to secure its playoff spot, but sure made hard work it after leading most of the way.
First there was a controversial penalty kick decision that allowed New England to tie in the 80th minute. Then there was an ejection that left New England with 10 men.
Then Diego Fagundez scored what looked like a huge, dramatic game-winner for the visiting Revolution. And that was while a man down, remember.
And then Tim Cahill scored a 97th minute equalizer – the goal that puts New York into the playoffs.
It was certainly no ordinary night. The backdrop was framed with drama: the Red Bulls needed only a draw to clinch their post-season spot and take another step toward an Eastern Conference regular season championship.
They seemed on their way to getting in with a win (surely the preferred way) but a controversial handball on New York’s Jamison Olave changed the game and breathed fresh life into New England’s playoff hopes. If Olave – who was having an excellent match, helping generally prevent New England’s Premier League-bound striker Juan Agudelo from being dangerous – got much arm on Saer Sene’s shot, it wasn’t much.
Olave appeared to block the ball legally with his upper chest area or front part of the shoulder.
Minutes later, Revolution midfielder Andy Dorman was ejected for a nasty tackle, damaging the visitors’ chances of getting a second, late goal.
Fagundez’s late goal gave New England a 2-1 win, but Cahill’s late, late header put a punctuation mark on a wild, wild conclusion. Jay Heaps’ Revolution may now have to win all three remaining matches, including two on the road, to make the playoffs.
New York was in control over the first 45 minutes, as New England lost the midfield and then fell behind on Fabian Espincola’s goal, one that was equal measures clinical finishing and defensive blunder.
If New England was fairly harmless in the first 45 minutes, the urgency kicked in for the second 45. By early in the second half, New England was pushing rather desperately, getting lots of numbers into the attack, well aware of what it meant to pull out of Red Bull Arena with no points.
Winning at Red Bull Arena was always a tall order; it’s something the club has not accomplished in New York since 2007. Plus, the Red Bulls were unbeaten in their previous eight at home.
Things got a lot tougher for the visitors in the 14th minute, when a careless moment from rookie Steven Caldwell, who has generally been a steady midfield presence this year, turned into the Red Bulls goal by Espindola.
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