After years of countless playoff failures, the New York Red Bulls were able to advance out of the conference semifinal round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
Mike Petke's side did lose 2-1 on the day to D.C. United, but it advanced on aggregate thanks to two goals in the first leg a week ago.
Although New York did see Roy Miller commit a hideous high challenge to earn a red card in the 79th minute, which reminded many of mistakes made in the past, the Red Bulls were able to fight off their past postseason demons.
There was also the late goal scored by Sean Franklin, but that came too late in the match to concern the Red Bulls due to the away goal they earned in the 57th minute. The win handed the Red Bulls a spot in their first conference final since 2008, when they beat Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final.
The player who handed New York a comfortable cushion on aggregate was Peguy Luyindula, who cashed in on a terrific cross from Thierry Henry. It was Henry who was supposed to come to New York and bring the franchise to the promised land. But it was not until the capture of the 2013 Supporters' Shield that the Frenchman delivered something truly meaningful to the club.
Despite being the best team in the regular season a year ago, the Red Bulls went down an all-too-familiar path in the conference semifinal round and lost to the Houston Dynamo.
The Red Bulls entered the MLS Cup playoffs this season as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. They were seen as an outside favorite to advance past D.C., which put together a tremendous worst-to-first turnaround in the regular season. As Goal.com's Seth Vertelney points out, the Red Bulls won as the wild card a year after losing to the wild-card team.
But as we all know in any American sport, seedings are thrown out the window when the playoffs begin. Just like so many American teams in the last decade, the Red Bulls earned momentum from the MLS version of the wild-card game.
The Red Bulls began to control their own playoff momentum with a 2-1 win over defending champion Sporting Kansas City in the knockout round on Oct. 30. The win was earned thanks to a tactical call made by Petke to enter Luyindula into the match.
Luyindula played a role in creating both goals scored by Bradley Wright-Phillips in the final 13 minutes of the match to earn the second home win in franchise playoff history.
The second win in four days at Red Bull Arena came in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal, as New York dominated its longtime rival thanks to the efforts of Henry. The former Arsenal and Barcelona player assisted on both goals in the 2-0 win to hand his side a sizable advantage.
It was Henry who once again played a role in delivering the knockout punch, as his cross from the left side of the pitch found Luyindula for his 57th-minute strike. Luyindula has two goals and two assists in his three playoff matches, per MLSSoccer.com's Franco Panizo:
The win marked only the third playoff series win in the club's 19-year history. It did make it all the way to the MLS Cup final in 2008 before losing 3-1 to Columbus in California.
With an attack firing on all cylinders and a manager playing all the right cards, the Red Bulls do stand a chance against either New England or Columbus in the next round. Advancing will not be an easy task, but they carry a ton of momentum at the moment.
They will be without Miller at left back, but that may seem like a minor deduction to the lineup if Petke can get the best out of Ambroise Oyongo. Petke has proven with his usage of Luyindula over the last few weeks that he has a terrific understanding of his players and what roles they are best suited for.
If the next round goes just like the Red Bulls want it to, we could be quieting the talk of their past failures for good to focus on their newfound success.
Follow Joe on Twitter @JTansey90.