Need a win in California to advance in MLS playoffs
By Jim Hague
After doing everything possible over the last month to get into the Major League Soccer playoffs, then defeating FC Dallas in the first round to advance, the New York Red Bulls now have their collective backs against the wall as they try to keep their 2011 season alive.
After falling, 1-0, to the Los Angeles Galaxy Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena, the Red Bulls now have to go to the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., this week and have to do something no other team managed to do all season – beat the Galaxy on their home field.
Former Red Bulls forward Mike Magee scored a goal in the 15th minute, giving the Galaxy a leg up on the Red Bulls in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinals.
Magee scored the lone goal of the match, off a long cross from David Beckham, enabling the Galaxy to head home needing only a tie or a win to advance to the conference finals. The two-game series is based on aggregate goals between the two teams. The Galaxy is unbeaten at home this season, posting a 12-0-5 record.
While the Red Bulls have their work cut out for them, head coach Hans Backe doesn’t believe it’s an impossible chore.
“I think Los Angeles started the game better and played the first 15 minutes a little better than us, but after that, we totally controlled the game,” Backe said. “It’s not the result we wanted, but it was one of our best performances by far. We controlled the game and had four huge chances to score in the second half. We played Los Angeles in a tough one before (a 2-1 win Oct. 4) and we can do it again. If we can stay on this level, we can win the game.”
However, Backe knows that his team cannot do two things that they did Sunday _ allow an easy goal, then fail to capitalize on their solid scoring chances.
“We can’t give away a goal like that,” Backe said. “We have to be more confident. It’s a tough goal to give away. We had about seven guys call for the offside and I believe (Robbie) Keane was offside. Magee came in as a late runner and he made the play. You have to keep playing.”
Added Backe, “It’s frustrating, because we need to take advantage of the chances we have, even more so in the playoffs. The first three chances we had to tie the score were really big.”
Magee, who began his career with the Red Bulls franchise, played six seasons with the team as both the MetroStars and Red Bulls and then was traded to the Galaxy in 2009. He got past the defense on a 45-yard pass from Beckham.
While most of the Red Bull roster stood and watched, thinking the play was offside, Magee pushed it past Red Bulls keeper Frank Rost for the lone goal of the match.
“The ball was a perfect pass,” Magee said. “I was 100 percent not offside. Besides, it wasn’t called, so then it wasn’t. I was just glad to get it.”
“I thought everyone stopped, thinking it was offside,” Red Bulls defender Carlos Mendes said. “Everyone stopped, except Mike. It was a great finish on his part.”
“Mike is a good player who for the majority of his career has always been good around the penalty area,” said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, who also coached Magee with the MetroStars and engineered the trade that brought Magee to Los Angeles. “As he’s matured as a player, he’s been able to handle a variety of roles and did it all for us this year. He’s a very diverse player.”
Josh Saunders made five saves to earn his ninth shutout in 19 matches this season for the Galaxy, who beat the Red Bulls for the first time in 2011, after a 1-1 tie in May and a 2-1 loss earlier this month in New Jersey.
“We seemed very comfortable playing here,” Saunders said. “It’s great to get a win right off the bat. We now just have to go out and try to win again.”
The Red Bulls’ best chance to score came in the 49th minute, when Dane Richards swerved through two defenders to put a pass across to Luke Rodgers. But Rodgers’ point-blank shot was deflected by Saunders’ right hand and the ball sailed over the crossbar before Rodgers could get to it.
“I was just trying to see the play,” Saunders said. “It was a quick reaction more than anything, ball to hand. I was lucky to get a hand on it. It came off very quick.”
“We have to keep our heads up a little,” Richards said. “It’s really frustrating to play well and not get the win. But we have to just put it behind us and get ready for the next one.”
The Red Bulls had an opportunity to tie the match with under 2 minutes remaining in regulation, but Mendes’ header off a corner kick from Rodgers went over the crossbar.
“We just didn’t put any of our chances away,” Mendes said. “I thought our attitude was good. We fought hard. We just gave up the early goal and that’s never good. It’s going to be difficult, but it’s not over.”
In stoppage time, the Red Bulls came close again, when Rafa Marquez sent a shot from 25 yards out that Saunders made a diving stop on, with the rebound attempt sailing wide right.
It marked the first time the two teams met in the MLS Cup playoffs since the 2001 quarterfinals, a series won by the Galaxy in three games.
The game was marred by a post-game incident involving four players, two from each team. Donovan apparently said something to Marquez, who then took the ball and fired it at Donovan. In the scrum that ensued, Galaxy midfielder Juninho threw a punch at Red Bulls defender Stephen Keel.
Referee Alex Prus issued post-game red cards to both Marquez and Juninho, suspending both for the next game.
So the odds may be against the Red Bulls. After all, the Galaxy, with the glitter and glamour of having players like Beckham and Donovan, has an undefeated home record. Can the Red Bulls do what no other MLS team has done?
“I feel better about our chances going to L.A.,” Backe said. “The way we played was proof. I’m happy about the way we played. They’re a good defensive team and tough to break down. We’ve done it before. We have to win the game and I don’t care if we win in 90 minutes or win by a shootout. But we’re going to win.”
Strong words from a coach holding on to all hope of finally giving the franchise the long-awaited MLS Cup. It won’t be easy.