MLS Playoff Recap, Highlights: Revolution, Red Bulls Make Statements

IMAGE, REVOLUTIONSOCCER.COM

by RYAN BRISTER
Staff Writer

The first weekend of Major League Soccer’s playoffs featured ten goals, but more than half of those were in Columbus. Elsewhere, the higher-seeded road sides found it very difficult to score.

Heading into the second legs, one tie appears all but over, while the other three have much in doubt.

Columbus Crew 2-4 New England Revolution

The Revolution had quieted a small Columbus crowd, but a late penalty kick gave the Crew a hint of hope heading into the second leg. The game started frantically and physically, and when it settled in, New England took control. Set pieces began the Revs’ romp. Charlie Davies dashed unnoticed in behind the Crew defense for a diving header off of Kelyn Rowe’s first-half free kick. In the second half, Chris Tierney’s free kick curled around the wall and into the back of the net.

Down 2-0, and with the away-goals rule in effect, Columbus needed a response. Justin Meram provided one in the 64th minute, scoring after New England failed to properly clear the ball from their box. But as the Crew pushed for an equalizer, they opened up space for the Revs on the counter.

The next two goals were similar. First Lee Nguyen drove from the center circle to Columbus’ box with the ball, and because no one stopped him, he finished the job himself. Charlie Davies wasn’t closed down either, and he launched a curling goal from 25 yards out.

The 4-1 scoreline would not have flattered the Revs, but a handball in stoppage time turned into a Panenka penalty for Federico Higuain. At 4-2, the Crew will need to score at least three goals in the second leg in order to move on to the conference finals.

The attendance of 9,047 was the smallest playoff crowd in Crew history. The weather was cold, the game was played on just a week’s notice, and Ohio State played on Saturday, but that’s a disappointing number that could end what has been a good year in Columbus.

Real Salt Lake 0-0 LA Galaxy

 

RSL chipped and fired and prodded the ball toward LA’s net, but Jaime Penedo refused to let it by him. The Galaxy goalkeeper made six saves in a scoreless draw, while his counterpart Nick Rimando was largely untroubled.

The subplot in Sandy was the wind, blowing at 20 mph throughout the game. RSL faced the wind in the first half,  and it notably blew down every goal kick Rimando took. Chances were few in a tight first half.

Refereeing came into question throughout the night. The game was physical and chippy throughout—LA committed 24 fouls—but the ref kept his cards in his pocket until the second half, when he gave two to each team. Each team also had a major scoring chance wrongly called back for offside in the first half.

The home side took over after halftime. With the wind at their back, RSL heaped pressure on the Galaxy and prevented them from getting into their typical rhythm. The away-goals rule is supposed to incentivize the road team to attack, but RSL were clearly the more ambitious side in the second half. They took six corner kicks, one of which was on its way in before Penedo punched the ball clear.

New York Red Bulls 2-0 DC United

Thierry Henry delivered a great performance in what might be his last home game at Red Bull Arena, as New York dominated DC. Henry had two assists in a 2-0 victory that could have been even more lopsided.

After several chances, Bradley-Wright Phillips got the breakthrough in the 40th minute. BWP got on the end of a brilliant Henry backheel, Peguy Luyindula’s dummy opened the space for BWP, who fired it past a scrambling Bill Hamid. BWP had nine shots in the game, but just the one goal.

Rather than rest on their lead, the Red Bulls pressed on after halftime looking for a second.  Luyindula scored it, but again the hard work was done by Henry. He delivered a beautiful ball over the top, which found Luyindula in behind the defense. Luyindula was onside, to the surprise of some DC players, and after controlling the ball he put his shot through Hamid’s legs.

Luyindula has been instrumental to the Red Bulls’ success in two straight playoff games. He came on as a substitute against Sporting Kansas City and sparked the New York’s comeback. Luyindula started in place of Tim Cahill—the one change Mike Petke made to his Thursday night lineup—against DC and played a role in both goals.

It could have been worse for DC. Bill Hamid made five saves, including two in quick succession against Lloyd Sam and BWP. In contrast, Luis Robles needed only two saves to preserve the clean sheet for New York.

FC Dallas – Seattle Sounders

A pair of set pieces produced a 1-1 draw in a drab game in Dallas.

Injury kept Gonzalo Pineda out of the 18 for Seattle. Marco Pappa took his place in the starting lineup, and was Pappa who committed the penalty that gave Dallas the lead. There was no controversy with the call; Pappa made an unnecessary challenge on Fabian Castillo and never got the ball. For the seventh time in seven attempts this year, Michel buried the penalty kick.

Aside from the penalty, the two best chances of the first half fell to Obafemi Martins. Both times, however, Raul Fernandez made great saves to deny him. Matt Hedges had to clear the second off the line after it stung Fernandez’s hands.

Pappa made up for his mistake with a free-kick assist early in the second half. With the ball whipped in towards goal, Osvaldo Alonso found just enough space behind Castillo to get a glancing header on the ball and redirect it into the net.

After Alonso’s equalizer, the game stagnated as the two sides nullified each other. Dallas had a lot of possession in Seattle’s half, but produced no real threat until Castillo forced Frei into  a great save in the 90th minute. Likewise, Seattle’s attempts to counter mostly fizzled out.

The 1-1 result is fair to both sides; neither team was clearly better. But Seattle will be much happier as they head home with an away goal in tow.