In the space of roughly 13 minutes, the New York Red Bulls went from the outhouse to the penthouse, clawing back from a 1-0 deficit to pick up a 2-1 win over reigning MLS Cup champions, Sporting Kansas City. The loss eliminated Sporting K.C. from the 2014 MLS Cup.
When things began looking bleak for New York, Bradley Wright-Phillips atoned for an earlier miss, poking home the equalizer past Eric Kronberg in the 77th minute. Thierry Henry did well to thread the assist through the legs of Sporting center back Aurelien Collin.
MLSSoccer.com's Matthew Doyle felt that right back has been an area of concern for Sporting K.C. since Chance Myers' injury, and it came back to bite them in a big way there:
The match looked destined for extra time until Wright-Phillips delivered the winner in the 90th minute:
Both the goal and the cross leading to the goal looked somewhat accidental, with Ambroise Oyongo hitting his cross poorly and Wright-Phillips looking to have mistimed his header, only for the ball to bounce in the back of the net.
Trevor Hayward of the North American Soccer Network didn't care about style points—a goal is a goal:
That was enough to secure the victory.
Before the match, Henry made the case to MLSSoccer.com's Franco Panizo that Wright-Phillips has been the most valuable player in MLS this year—he tied Roy Lassiter and Chris Wondolowski's single-season scoring record:
He played well from the beginning. And the [MVP award] is for the player of the season. Player of the season, not the last three months, not the middle months, not the five first games. Player of the season. Did you play well the whole season? How many games has Bradley had? Thirty-two. That’s why for me he will get my vote.
After the match, it's even harder to argue with the Frenchman.
Although the Red Bulls still have a ways to go to capture their first MLS Cup, Thursday's win was massive for the franchise and also for the legacies of Henry and Tim Cahill.
Sports Illustrated's Brian Straus commended the two for what they've done for New York and the league as a whole, but their collective playoff failure remains an albatross around their MLS careers:
On the balance of the full 90 minutes, New York was the deserved victor.
The Red Bulls could've had a one-goal or even a two-goal lead going into halftime. Wright-Phillips and Cahill both spoiled what were golden opportunities to give their club the advantage.
In the 17th minute, Cahill was only three or four yards out with the goal mouth gaping wide open. Somehow, his shot sailed high above the crossbar. It was a miss of epic proportions:
MLSSoccer.com's Andrew Wiebe tracked the path of the shot, and it ended up well into the stands:
Wright-Phillips' wasted chance wasn't nearly as egregious but disappointing nonetheless. New York winger Lloyd Sam found some space down the right and fired in a perfect cross for Wright-Phillips, whose free header missed the target altogether.
Given the striker's prodigious goal-scoring record during the regular season, many would've expected the header to end up in the back of the net.
Sporting K.C. weren't without scoring opportunities, either. Their first came courtesy of midfielder Paulo Nagamura, whose shot from the center of the 18-yard box was saved by Luis Robles in the 35th minute. Ten minutes later, Sporting forward Dom Dwyer had a close effort blocked by New York center back Jamison Olave:
Much like last night's knockout round fixture, Thursday's match was rather dull in the first 45. Neither the Red Bulls nor Sporting owned a discernible advantage over the other. Despite New York having those two great chances, it didn't offer a consistent threat going forward, which arguably played to Sporting's advantage since they were on the road.
Sporting K.C. used that advantage to great effect in the 53rd minute, when Dwyer put his team ahead with a well-placed shot into the left post. Midfielder Benny Feilhaber created the goal when he won possession off Eric Alexander and proceeded to begin the counterattack. Feilhaber threaded a perfect ball through to Dwyer.
American Soccer Now's Brian Sciaretta thought the pass outshone the goal:
Doyle noted that Feilhaber and Dwyer were among Kansas City's best players, so the goal was their just reward:
Unfortunately for Sporting, they couldn't find the insurance goal that would've eased the pressure in the second half. Their defense let them down in the final 20 minutes, and the club's title defense is officially over.
The Red Bulls move on to play No. 1 seed D.C. United in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The semifinals are played over two legs, so winning or losing the first match won't secure passage into the conference finals.