[MLS SPOTLIGHT] They did it with an own goal, but the Red Bulls deserved the win that nailed down a playoff spot.
A Dane Richards header rebounded off the goalpost and into the net off Union keeper Faryd Mondragon in the seventh minute, and the Red Bulls rode that early momentum to override the absence of suspended attacker Thierry Henry in its season finale. New York finished the season with 46 points, and pending results during the last weekend of play – and possibly tiebreakers -- it will end up eighth, ninth, or 10th in overall points.
Right back Jan Gunnar Solli attacked down the right flank from the outset and his cross provided the chance for Richards, deployed up top rather than his regular spot on the right flank, to find a huge gap in the Union defense and head the ball at goal. It struck the upright and Mondragon’s desperation dive inadvertently propelled it into the goal.
The keeper thwarted New York twice before halftime. A ball from Luke Rodgers played Richards in behind the Union back line to get away a shot the keeper turned away for a corner kick. Just before halftime, Rodgers set up a chance for Joel Lindpere, but he, too, was foiled by the Colombian goalie.
At halftime, Union head coach Peter Nowak tried to pump up his attack by bringing on Danny Mwanga and Freddy Adu for Amobi Okugo and 16-year-old Zach Pfeffer, respectively. Mwanga nearly scored after a couple of minutes but shot wide of the post after knifing into the goalmouth from the left flank.
Rodgers squandered a great chance to ice the game midway through the half by shooting over the crossbar from the edge of the goal area. New York needed only a tie to eliminate its pursuers, Portland and Chicago, and kept pushing up for a second goal, which allowed Philly some space to come forward.
Defender Carlos Valdes got his head to a Sebastian Le Toux free kick and directed it into the net, but an offside call nullified the apparent equalizer. New York clamped down on the match from that point and posted its third straight home shutout.
New York thus qualifies for the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons. It finished first in the Eastern Conference last year but was eliminated by San Jose (3-2 aggregate) in the conference semifinals.
The Union, which started the night tied with Sporting Kansas City on top the Eastern Conference with 48 points, could be knocked down into the wild-card slots if results go against it during the weekend. SKC, Columbus and Houston can all pass it in the standings by winning.