HARRISON, N.J. — The Red Bulls finally got some good playoff fortune thanks to a bizarre defensive gaffe, and New York gave their fans a glorious playoff memory on Thursday as a second-half comeback produced a 2-1 win and eliminated defending champion Sporting Kansas City from the MLS Cup playoffs.
After K.C. went ahead early in the second half on a Dom Dwyer goal, it looked like we might be headed for another early playoff exit for New York in what could have been Thierry Henry’s final game with the club (and perhaps in his career). But Henry’s assist on a Bradley Wright-Phillips goal got the rally started, and a stunning switch-off by the Kansas City defense (especially goalkeeper Eric Kronberg and defender Aurélien Collin) led to BWP’s 90th-minute game-winner.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
1. What on earth was that defending by K.C.?
It seemed like extra-time was going to happen with a 1-1 tie late, and Ambroise Oyongo’s cross shouldn’t have provided much danger, not least because he hit it wrong and sent a moonball into the box. But instead of coming out to get it, Kronberg hesitated on his line, and Collin compounded the error by not moving over to defend Wright-Phillips. Left unmarked, MLS’ leading scorer was free to head the ball past Kronberg for the win.
"I was waiting for Collin or Matt [Besler] to come on the back of my neck, but they didn't and I just tried to get it on target," Wright-Phillips told ESPN's Monica Gonzalez in his postgame interview.
Considering how many chances New York had squandered in this game — from Tim Cahill, Wright-Phillips, Henry and Dax McCarty — the Red Bulls still managed to find the goals they needed when it counted. Now D.C. United awaits in the MLS quarterfinals.
Henry’s disgust was palpable when K.C. took the lead, and he had reason to be annoyed. He gave Eric Alexander the hospital ball that he turned over on the play that led to the goal. But instead of unleashing Le Sulk, Henry put his energy into turning the game around. His incisive run and pass on the equalizer were vintage Titi, and he was front and center supporting his teammates down the stretch. Henry isn’t the player he once was, but he’s still capable of producing moments of magic. And in Wright-Phillips he has a finisher with the poise to complete what Henry sets up for him. Don’t discount New York’s chances against United in the next round. There’s no reason Henry can’t lead this team on a deep run.
3. Ay, Kansas City
Sporting’s exit put the final nail into a season where the team struggled mightily in the second half and turned what seemed like a potential repeat title run (during the summer, at least) into a long, painful slog down the stretch. Injuries were a bear for K.C., and you have to wonder how much Jurgen Klinsmann’s punishing World Cup camp made life difficult for Graham Zusi and Matt Besler once they returned to their club. (They didn’t appear to be the same players.) Selling Uri Rosell midseason might also be viewed as a mistake in retrospect, and if you’re a K.C. fan you have to hope that Roger Espinoza does indeed head back to the Midwest. Manager Peter Vermes said afterward that Espinoza was expected back with the club in 2015. With the way Vermes likes his teams to play, Espinoza’s return could be huge.