Monday, September 27, 2010

Sweet Victory in La-La Land: Red Bulls 2 LA Galaxy 0

I sat down in front of the TV late on Friday night hoping for the best, but - pessimist that I am - expecting the worst.  The Red Bulls hadn't beaten a top three team this season, home or away.  While a result in LA probably wouldn't have made a difference one way or the other to the Red Bulls playoff prospects, the idea of starting off the weekend by dropping the most overhyped game of the MLS season, and once again failing against one of the league's big guns, had me filled with dread.

In the end, the Red Bulls put together what was probably their most complete performance of the season, dominating the midfield war and seizing the opportunities presented to them by a porous Galaxy defense that was without Omar Gonzalez and Gregg Berhalter.  Joel Lindpere had another outstanding game on the left, creating the opening goal by jinking past Leonardo and smacking a shot off the post that rebounded at the feet of Dane Richards, who could not help but score.

It was no less than the Red Bulls deserved for their efforts.  David Beckham started for the Galaxy but was neutralized by the team of Tchani and Marquez, who won ball after ball and distributed coolly all night long.  Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle, who might have been expected to torch the Red Bulls after Carey Talley limped off early with an injury, were dominated by the defensive team of Tim Ream, Mike Petke and Carlos Mendes, who moved out to the right following Talley's departure.  Hell, you could argue that Mendes was a better choice at right back to begin with, but we'll let Hans Backe slide on that one.  When the Galaxy did manage to get in and around the 18-yard box, Bouna Condoul, who had one of his strongest games of the season, was there to gobble up the ball. 

I expected the Galaxy to regroup at half time and perhaps put up more of a fight after the break, but Bruce Arena had no answers.  The Red Bulls executed their game plan masterfully and added a second when Dane Richards took advantage of Yohance Marshall's inexperience and used his blazing speed to draw a penalty that Juan Pablo Angel promptly smacked beyond the reach of Donovan Ricketts.  Game over.

The big victory put me in a good mood that even Chelsea getting beaten by Manchester City the following morning could not dampen.  I've been waiting all year for a big win against a big opponent and it had finally arrived!  Yes, LA was suffering from injuries and suspensions, but it was still a great performance on national TV in front of a hostile crowd.  And let's not forget, the Red Bulls were without a major player of their own, Thierry Henry. Some in the media were left disappointed that the match was not more entertaining for neutrals, but the Red Bulls weren't (and shouldn't have been) concerned with entertainment value or living up to whatever bull the league office was putting out there.  What they wanted to do was get closer to the postseason finish line, build confidence and put down a marker that would make doubters sit up and notice.  Mission accomplished.

Now the only remaining questions are: 1) when will the Red Bulls wrap up a playoff spot, and 2) who will they face?  They could punch their ticket as early as Saturday if they can take all three points against Kansas City at Red Bull Arena.  Unlike past seasons, every club that is currently on course to grab a playoff spot in MLS this season seems deserving, and there are - at the moment at least - no cupcake teams.  Whoever the Red Bulls end up meeting in the playoffs, it should be a fairly tight contest.  But after finally getting the big game monkey off their backs, RBNY has taken a massive step toward being considered a legitimate threat for MLS Cup.
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