I watched the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs kick off on Wednesday night from the Football Factory at Legends in New York City with over 600 Red Bulls supporters. The New York Red Bulls' 2-0 victory over FC Dallas guaranteed that one more match will be played at Red Bull Arena.
After barely making it into the MLS Cup Playoffs, the Red Bulls will advance to the Conference Semifinals, where they will face the Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS Supporters Shield winners, in a home-and-home, aggregate goal, two-leg series.
With the first leg taking place on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 3:00 PM ET at Red Bull Arena, the Red Bulls will have little time to fully recover for their showdown against Los Angeles. The last time they met in September, the Red Bulls won 2-0 at home.
On Wednesday night, the Red Bulls had to weather an early onslaught by FC Dallas when they almost produced a goal in the ninth minute when the ball bounced to the top of the Red Bulls' 18-yard box. Jackson Goncalves got to it first and tried to round goalkeeper Frank Rost, but Rost blocked his shot.
Five minutes later, New York defender Tim Ream almost blew another huge play when his clearance went to Marvin Chavez. Chavez was able to control the ball, and fortunately for the Red Bulls, he kicked the ball past the right post.
Once the Red Bulls settled in and played with the composure of a playoff team avoiding elimination, they had their first scoring opportunity when Rafa Marquez headed Joel Lindpere’s corner kick over the crossbar. In the 32nd minute the Red Bulls had another scoring opportunity when Dax McCarty passed the ball to Thierry Henry, who moments later misfired away.
After a scoreless first half, both FC Dalla's Kevin Hartman and New York's Frank Rost continued to play exceptionally well as they continued to prevent the other team from scoring.
With the Red Bulls playing aggressively, they finally took a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute when Joel Lindpere scored his second career playoff goal. Accepting a pass from Medhi Ballouchy, who seconds earlier created sufficient space and crossed the ball, Lindpere successfully found the net.
Dictating the tempo of the match, the Red Bulls found a way to almost sabotage their lead. In the 79th minute, Jan Gunnar Sollo was issued a red card for his hard tackle on Daniel Hernandez. Reduced to only 10 men, the Red Bulls continued to play the role of the aggressor.
In stoppage time, Henry scored his first postseason goal when he calmly tapped the ball to the back of the net seconds after Kevin Hartman deflected his initial shot. As a result, the Red Bulls led 2-0, and FC Dallas's season was minutes away from being officially over.
With the first leg taking place on Sunday, October 30 at Red Bull Arena, the second leg will be played at The Home Depot Center on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 11:00 PM ET. Los Angeles maybe the favored club but the Red Bulls hasn't lost to the Galaxy this season.
Following the match, the 600-plus Red Bulls supporters at the Football Factory chanted and cheered enthusiastically that the Red Bulls aspiration for a MLS Cup is very much alive. A couple of more wins and the Red Bulls will be joining the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake as the third consecutive club to win the MLS Cup as the last-seeded club.
With this being the playoffs, anything can happen. With an opportunity to atone for their underachieving season, the Red Bulls have the opportunity to reward their supporters at Red Bull Arena on Sunday afternoon where it's going to be electric.
Cesar Diaz covers Soccer for LatinoSports.com. He also writes for 5 Points Press & USSoccerPlayers.com; your source for American Soccer news brought to you by members of the U.S. National Team. Easily accessible, you may reach Cesar at firstname.lastname@example.org and at Twitter at @CoveringSoccer.