It was a battle for a spot in the playoff race on Saturday at Red Bull Arena, as the New York Red Bulls hosted the Portland Timbers, with both sides closely eyeing the postseason as the end of Major League Soccer's regular season looms in sight.
Prior to the match, Portland was holding on to the final MLS wild-card position, which goes automatically to the fourth-best club in the league that doesn't already hold a Top Three spot in their respective division.
New York was chasing closely behind and hoped to overtake Portland in their hunt for playoff action when the West Coast side visited for an exciting weekend fixture.
New York midfielder Dane Richards opened the scoring in the 21st minute, rounding Portland's Diego Chara to carry the ball all on his own into the box, and slipping the shot past the keeper from a difficult angle.
Portland came heart-wrenchingly close to scoring the equalizer in the 57th minute, when Kalif Alhassan took a long shot that bounced off the bar and fell to Kenny Cooper, who hit the woodwork for Portland for the second time in a matter of seconds.
The equalizing goal would never come for the Timbers, as Alhassan was ruled just minutes later to have handled a Thierry Henry shot in the box. Alhassan was ejected from the match, leaving Portland with 10 players on the field; Luke Rodgers converted the penalty decision with ease.
The 2-0 victory at home allowed New York to leap-frog Portland in the standings and take a two-point lead in the playoff hunt, with four remaining regular-season matches to go. New York stands only one point above DC United, however, who also have two games in hand.
NY: Dane Richards (21')
NY: Luke Rodgers (PEN, 66')
Red Bulls Lineup:
Frank Rost, Jan Gunnar Solli, Stephen Keel, Tim Ream, Carlos Mendes, Dane Richards, Dax McCarty, Teemu Tainio, Joel Lindpere, Luke Rodgers, Thierry Henry
Subs: Juan Agudelo for Luke Rodgers (75'), Stephane Auvray for Joel Lindpere (83'), Mehdi Ballouchy for Dane Richards (89')
Troy Perkins, Lovel Palmer, Eric Brunner, Mamadou Danso, Mike Chabala, Eric Alexander, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Kalif Alhassan, Kenny Cooper, Darlington Nagbe
Subs: Sal Zizzo for Eric Alexander (46'), Jorge Perlaza for Kenny Cooper (71'), Bright Dike for Darlington Nagbe (76')