By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio had just scored his third goal of the game Saturday night, with two coming in a span of two minutes, and the New York Red Bulls went from having a commanding 2-0 lead to now trailing 3-2 with just eight minutes remaining in regulation.
At that point, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke decided that going for a tie wasn’t nearly enough.
“We didn’t want to settle for a tie at home,” Petke said. “We wanted to get the win.”
It seemed like a lofty goal, considering that Real Salt Lake owned the best record in Major League Soccer at 11-6-4. Down a goal with eight minutes left and seeking a win was a lot to ask for.
But when Fabian Espindola scored his second goal of the game, both on penalty kicks, with two minutes left in regulation, tying the game at 3-3, the Red Bulls had hope.
Four minutes into added injury time, the Red Bulls got the game-winner.
Dax McCarty headed home the game-winner off a feed from Brandon Barklage and the Red Bulls had the improbable 4-3 victory.
It capped a furious final 10 minutes, where Real Salt Lake scored twice to take a 3-2 lead, only to see the Red Bulls score twice to earn the win.
The Red Bulls are now 10-7-5 overall, gaining ground in what is a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. The top five teams in the conference are separated by a total of seven points.
Undermanned Real Salt Lake, who had only four regular starters, dropped to an MLS best 11-7-4, sitting atop the Western Conference standings.
Petke was pleased with McCarty’s contribution.
“Dax is still coming back (from injury),” Petke said. “He’s not satisfied where he’s at right now. He’s obviously not terrible. We have high hopes for Dax. Once he embraces what I want from him, he’s going to be a big player for this club.”
McCarty, who was struggling recently, was ecstatic with his game-winner.
“It was one of the craziest games I’ve ever been a part of in my MLS career or my basically my entire career,” Red Bulls pull victory out of jaws of defeat McCarty said. “You go from literally shooting yourself in the foot, asking yourself how you let them back in the game. To give up those two goals within three minutes was a gut punch. It was really tough to take. But we have character, a lot of character. Fabian Espindola was fantastic tonight. You can’t write it up any better than that.”
Added McCarty, “My immediate thought was I never heard Red Bull Arena that loud before. It was unbelievable, what a great feeling. This is a game that only happens once every couple of years in this league. You don’t get many games where it’s that back and forth, that wide open, with as many good opportunities in the last 10 minutes. You know, when you score the game-winner in the 90th minute or whatever, you feel a little bit of redemption. I’m just glad I was right there at the right time.”
Espindola didn’t want to think like he was gaining revenge against his former club. He played for RSL last season.
“It’s always important to score to help the team,” Espindola said. “It’s special against these guys because I still care for them. It’s good that I scored the goals, but not because it was against them. It was doing my job.”
Espindola was shocked that captain Thierry Henry gave him the chance to take the first penalty kick in the first half.
“I have to say ‘Thank you,’ to Henry for letting me take the kick,” Espindola said. “He said, `Go ahead, take it, good luck.’ I think he did that because it was against my former team.”
Petke was a little lost for words after the match.
“I’m still a little lightheaded now after what went on,” Petke said. “It was the agony and the ecstasy with nothing in between. I’m thrilled one second and agonizing the next. But it was a great game to watch and to see it unfold like that is remarkable.”
The Red Bulls continued to dominate at Red Bull Arena, improving to 7-2-2 at home.
Tim Cahill recovered from a knee injury suffered early in the game to score the other goal for the Red Bulls.
In the fourth minute, Cahill was taken down from behind by RSL midfielder Yordany Alvarez, falling to the turf in what appeared to be excruciating pain.
Alvarez drew a yellow card for the hard foul, but Cahill remained on the ground for at least five minutes, getting medical attention. He later walked off the field on his own, but with a noticeable limp. He remained out of action for four minutes, then returned to play.
“It was the worst tackle of my life, 17 years of playing,” Cahill said. “I just watched it again and I don’t know how I got up. I took a nasty knock, but for me, it’s all about playing. I guess the adrenalin got the best of me.”
After the game, Cahill had a knot on his knee that was the size of a grapefruit. The injury was so severe that it will keep the Australian hero out of this week’s MLS All- Star game.
In the 12th minute, Cahill got his redemption. Henry placed a perfect feed off a direct free kick from 25 yards out to Cahill’s head and the Australian native had his sixth goal of the season. “We knew we had to get the win at home and we had to make something happen,” Henry said. “We know we’re playing well and expect to win.”
Henry had a golden chance to make the score 3-0, eluding two defenders to get a shot that bounced off the right goalpost. The rebound came right back to Henry, but the shot was stopped by a diving Nat Borchers in the 38th minute.
“We never gave up and kept coming back,” Henry said. “We knew we still had a chance. Dax came through and we got the win.”
“We have strong character, strong at home,” Espindola said.
Cahill was pleased with the win, especially against RSL.
“They’re a brilliant team, one of the most complete teams I’ve seen in the MLS,” Cahill said. “We want to be competing well against the best teams. That’s what it’s all about.”
And the Red Bulls move on, right in the middle of a heated playoff push.