|Playoff Intensity - On and Off the Pitch (Photo by Dan Dickinson)|
In a hard-fought, intense game played on chilly Sunday afternoon in Harrison, the Red Bulls ceded the advantage in their Western Conference semifinal playoff series to the Los Angeles Galaxy, losing 1-0 on a goal by (who else?) former Red Bull Mike Magee. New York isn't out of the playoffs yet by any means. If they can grab the opening goal on Thursday night in L.A., as they did earlier in the season, the pressure will be back on Bruce Arena's team. On the other hand, the Galaxy have yet to lose at home all season, so the Red Bulls will have to do something very special to pull off an upset - and they'll have to do it without Rafa Marquez (more on that later).
Our friends at Once a Metro have a full match report, which you can see here. Rather than break Sunday's game down minute by minute, here are a few observations:
- Jan Gunnar Solli's absence may have hurt after all. "DJ" Solli has been criticized by some (*ahem* Viper) for his poor defending, but Carlos Mendes - his replacement at right back - essentially gave up on the play from which Magee scored, allowing him a clear path to goal. You can judge for yourself whether Robbie Keane was in an offside position and made a move toward the ball (click the mute button to avoid John Harkes), but there's no excuse for the entire back line giving up on a play, no matter how much they expected to hear a whistle.
- Mike Magee has no class. Fans in New York supported Mike Magee for five years, despite multiple injuries and mediocre performances. I have nothing against a player celebrating after scoring a goal against a former club, but inciting the crowd was uncalled for.
- Henry wanted this one badly. It's hard to believe that many fans - yours truly included - were questioning Thierry Henry's desire earlier in the season. No player on the pitch on Sunday wanted to win more than Henry. The Frenchman played a tough, aggressive game, acting more as a distributor than a pure forward, but his effort was really top notch. TH14 has thoroughly won this once skeptical RBNY/Chelsea fan over.
- Alex Prus' check from Phil Anschutz should clear soon. It's pretty clear by now that the Red Bulls have been branded as the Oakland Raiders of MLS, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised that they get no calls from officials. When referee Alex Prus wasn't busy helping David Beckham up to his feet, he was giving Goldenballs soft free kick opportunities or overlooking clear fouls committed against New York players such as Luke Rodgers and Rafa Marquez. If things got out of hand at the final whistle, Prus is partly to blame for calling a lousy, one-sided game.
- The Galaxy are a boring team. Maybe I just never got over my Bruce Arena hate (I still have my "Fire Bruce" t-shirt), but it's hard to understand how a team with as much attacking talent as L.A. can play such a dull, defensive brand of soccer. Happy to bunker down after getting the early goal, they only have the heroics of Josh Saunders and Omar Gonzalez to thank for their advantage at the half-way point of the home-and-home series. Landon Donovan was mostly invisible, with the exception of one opportunity, which was snuffed out by Frank Rost. Robbie Keane, apart from the role he played in Magee's goal, did nothing.
- Handbags at full time. I missed the post-game shenanigans between Landon Donovan, Rafa Marquez, Juninho and Stephen Keel, but the final outcome - New York playing on Thursday without Marquez while the Galaxy will be without Juninho - probably benefits the Red Bulls. Dax McCarty should be able to slot into Marquez's place, while the Galaxy may have to manage with Chris Birchall.
- Landon Donovan is an annoying little twerp. Rather than simply addressing the Marquez incident for what it was, Captain America had to blow it up into an indictment of the entire Red Bull organization and its style of play. We can only imagine what Donovan's reaction might have been if every call had not gone his team's way on Sunday. Donovan could never cut it on the East Coast.
- Red Bull Arena was rocking. I'm not sure that I've ever heard Red Bull Arena louder than it was on Sunday, and not just in the South Ward. It was the kind of atmosphere you want for a playoff game. Hopefully it will carry over into 2011, regardless of the playoff outcome.
That's it for me. Viper will be along later with what will probably be our final video of the 2011 season, barring a surprise a the Home Depot Center.