It looks like the playoff magic the New York Red Bulls used to advance to the Eastern Conference Final is beginning to wear off.
In the 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution to begin the two-leg series, both sides missed solid opportunities in front of goal. But it was the host Red Bulls who squandered the best chances of the match.
Everything looked to be headed in the right direction for New York in the 27th minute, when Bradley Wright-Phillips cleaned up a Peguy Luyindula shot off the post to equalize the match at a goal apiece. Luyindula was praised for keeping the play alive, as he took a shot from the ground so Wright-Phillips could have the chance to hit the ball into the net.
The lone goal scored by the Red Bulls would end up being one of the few attacking chances the team converted in front of the home crowd at Red Bull Arena.
Wright-Phillips found himself in the spotlight again right before the halftime whistle. The Golden Boot winner had a terrific opportunity to hand the Red Bulls all of the momentum heading into the locker room. But instead of finishing off a Thierry Henry cross with ease, he headed the ball over the net.
The Red Bulls, who outshot the visiting Revs 18-8, were in control for the early part of the second half. In the 52nd minute, Lloyd Sam had a golden opportunity to hand his side a 2-1 lead, but he also missed.
New England keeper Bobby Shuttleworth saved the initial shot by Henry, but he produced a rebound that fell to Sam on the right side of the box. The English winger could have easily placed the ball into the right side of the net, but he sailed his shot high over the goal.
With the chances not being finished, New York manager Mike Petke had to put Tim Cahill on to the pitch to try to find more of a spark in front of goal. Cahill entered the game for Eric Alexander, who did a terrific job shutting down Lee Nguyen for 76 minutes.
Petke's move backfired immediately, as Cahill found his way into the book in the 77th minute for a challenge on Jermaine Jones. Eight minutes later, Nguyen was given a ton of space in the middle of the park to roam forward and create a late scoring chance. The Most Valuable Player candidate drove forward and started the move that created Jones' game-winning goal.
If Alexander was still on the pitch, there is a good chance he would have contained Nguyen to stop the dangerous looking attack. But due to the missed chances and an early away goal scored by Teal Bunbury in the 17th minute, Petke had no choice but to bring on an extra attacker.
Not only will the Red Bulls head to Gillette Stadium for Saturday's second leg down a goal on aggregate, they will do so without the services of Wright-Phillips.
In the 60th minute, Wright-Phillips continued the tradition of boneheaded playoff bookings for New York after he fouled Shuttleworth before a goal-kick. A game after Roy Miller's costly high challenge late in the second half against D.C. earned the left-back a red card, Wright-Phillips made himself unavailable for the second leg with his idiotic mistake.
As if New York didn't have an uphill challenge already, Henry usually doesn't start when his team plays on turf. Since joining Major League Soccer, Henry has played on the artificial surface on three occasions, per ESPN's Paul Carr. He has not played on the surface at Gillette Stadium.
With New York on the verge of desperation mode entering the second leg, Henry must be present for the fourth-seeded Red Bulls. He may even have to lead the line with the prolific Wright-Phillips not eligible to play.
Although New York is down just one goal on aggregate, the deficit seems insurmountable given the player-selection circumstances and away goals scored by the Revolution.
If more than one of the seven shots on goal found a way past Shuttleworth, New York's chances of qualifying for MLS Cup might not have looked so bleak after the first leg.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.