An early own goal sealed Red Bulls' passage into the post-season as they become the tenth and final team to qualify
Dane Richards forced an own goal on Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon as the diminutive winger leaped up, headed the ball towards the Colombian’s weak side and off the post, and eventually off the goalkeeper's back and over the line.
For the second straight year, Richard’s form has peaked as the team closed their season and Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said that he is impressed with the winger’s penchant for delivering in key moments.
“More and more, his runs are well timed," Backe said. “The past five or six games, he’s been flying and it was the same last year.”
Red Bulls continued to be aggressive in the first half, excelling in the counter attack and limiting Philadelphia's chances in the final third. The fact that the Union took their first shot in the 33rd minute off of a close range Shannon Williams effort was an indication of Red Bulls' strong focus on defence.
Zach Pfeffer tested New York goalkeeper Frank Rost in the 40th minute with a shot that was blocked by the German’s fingertips. With Philadelphia still having a shot at clinching the Eastern Conference, Union head coach Peter Nowak brought on two of his top attacking players as Freddy Adu and Danny Mwanga entered as halftime substitutes.
The pair immediately brought width to the Union’s attack but the Red Bulls defence responded with arguably their best performance of the season with a resilient Rost at goal. The former Bundesliga starter made some pivotal saves in the second half including diving low to stop what would have been a precise right footed finish by Sebastien Le Toux. The Red Bull Arena sell-out crowd of 25,044 sounded their loud praise of the 38-year-old’s hustle on the play.
“We were able to drop quite quickly in the space behind us,” said Backe. “We need to defend [in the future] as we did today.”
New York defender Tim Ream was also impressed by the performance of the back four, saying that it reminded him of how the team started off in their first five matches when the club was on top of the Eastern Conference.
“It was our most complete [performance of the season],” said Ream. “Their only real chances were from 20 or 30 yards out and those were handled pretty easily. Overall, save for the first five or six performances of the season, this was what we wanted to be the entire year.”
The Union actually dominated possession, holding the ball for over 55 percent of the game and matched the Red Bulls attempts on goal with 11 shots. But New York held the edge in finishing as they had four shots on goal as opposed to Philadelphia's solitary effort on target.
With the close range chances that it had in the first half, Backe stated that the team should have won by a bigger margin.
“There was some nervous plays,” he said. “I think we should have killed this game in the first but they stayed in the game when we couldn’t finish.”
But the only stat that mattered was the 1-0 final score, and Red Bulls can breathe a sigh of relief as they became the tenth and final team to qualify for the MLS play-offs. Backe admitted that this was a difficult season for everyone involved but is looking for a fresh start in the post-season.
“This was a rough season,” Backe said before adding, “You know better than me that the team that have qualifed as eighth have won the cup over the past few years. Everything is possible."