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November 2, 2012
22 players have stood out for Red Bulls

By Michael Lewis Editor

They haven't had very reasons to smile and rejoice in the playoffs, but the Red Bulls have had their share of heroes in the MLS playoffs.

As the Red Bulls prepare for their Eastern Conference semifinal first-leg encounter at D.C. United on Saturday night, let's take a look at the 22 players who made their mark for the club in the post season since 1996:

1. Dane Richards, midfielder (2008)

He had a hand in all three Red Bulls goals. He struck for the first one on a breakaway through the middle of the Dynamo defense in the 25th minute. His right-wing cross hit the hand of former MetroStars midfielder Rico Clark and Juan Pablo Angel converted the ensuing penalty kick in the 36th minute. Richards put an exclamation point on the upset with a superb 65-yard run down the right flank before he sent a short pass to a charging John Wolyniec in front of the net and the Staten Island native tapped in his first playoff goal in the 81st minute.

2. Danny Cepero, goalkeeper (2008)

The Baldwin, L.I. native, with only four MLS games under his belt, was credited with five saves in the victory over Houston, although it seemed that he made double the amount. He denied Brian Ching on a header in the 59th minute. Stuart Holden fired a 25-yard effort that was knocked by Cepero in the 78th minute. A minute later, Cepero made the save of the game when he made a kick save on Holden's 15-yard shot.

3. Paul Grafer, goalkeeper (2000)

Until the Red Bulls manage to get out of the opening round or beyond, this will remain the greatest achievement in team playoff history. That's a back-up goalkeeper -- someone from another organization -- backstopped the team when it was known as the MetroStars to its one and only appearance in the league semifinals. Even the likes of Tony Meola and Tim Howard, among others, have not accomplished that feat. For the record, Grafer, who had been playing with the Long Island Rough Riders (A-League at that time), dispatched the Dallas Burn in two straight wins (both 2-1 results), although he will be the first to admit he had some help. Grafer's reward for doing what has become a legendary achievement? Sitting the bench when regular Michael Ammann came back to play.

4. Juan Pablo Angel (2008)

He scored a goal in both games against Houston, giving the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead in the 48th minute at Giants Stadium on Nov. 1 before the Dynamo equalized late in the match. His penalty kick last Sunday was a backbreaker.

5. Clint Mathis, midfielder-forward (2000)

If anyone had any doubt that Mathis owned the Dallas Burn, they just needed to take a look at the 2000 MLS season. He scored a record five goals against the team. In the playoffs, he scored three goals, in a pair of 2-1 wins, including two in the second game at the Cotton Bowl on Sept. 20.

6. Adolfo Valencia, forward (2000)

Valencia struck twice in the decisive Game 3 of the semifinals on in the 32nd and 36th minutes, but it wasn't enough. His teammates thought that Valencia should have had a third goal late in the match, but it was ruled offside. The bottom line was a 3-2 victory for the Chicago Fire.

7. Joel Lindpere, midfielder (2011)

The Estonian international may not be flashy, but he continued to prove his worth as he scored the first goal in the 61st minute of the 2-0 victory over FC Dallas in the wildcard match, converting a short pass from Mehdi Ballouchy.

8. Rodrigo Faria, forward (2001)

With Mathis ailing with a season-ending knee injury and Valencia struggling to find his form, the onus for goal-scoring fell on the shoulders of Faria, who did pretty well. His most memorable playoff game came against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the MetroStars' lone home game in the opening round. The Brazilian-born Faria scored the equalizer in the 72nd minute and added an insurance goal in the 80th minute.

9. John Wolyniec, forward (2008)

With the Red Bulls trailing the Columbus Crew, 1-1, in the MLS Cup. Woly equalized in the 51st minute. thanks to a nifty move by Richards through the right side of the penalty area. He slipped a short pass to Wolyniec, who sent a shot from the right side of his right foot from five yards past goalkeeper Will Hesmer and into the net for his second playoff goal. The deadlock, however, lasted less than two minutes as the Crew scored the eventual game-winner in what turned into a 3-1 championship victory. However, was the only goal a Red Bull has scored in an MLS championship game.

10. Joel Lindpere, midfielder (2010)

Despite playing with an injured groin muscle, Lindpere acquitted himself quite well for 89 minutes in the 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes in the Eastern Conference semifinals first leg on Oct. 30. And to score the lone goal in the 55th minute, to boot, to give the Red Bulls a one-goal lead entering Thursday's second leg.

11. Youri Djorkaeff, midfielder-forward (2005)

The Frenchman did his best to keep the MetroStars' playoff hopes afloat in the first round by assisting on Amado Guevara's goal in the first leg of the total goals series in the 34th minute and scoring the MetroStars' first goal in the second leg before Gillette Stadium collapsed on them on one of the team's greatest game meltdowns as they watched their late 2-0 lead be transformed into a 3-2 loss to the New England Revolution.

12. Giovanni Savarese, forward (1996)

His 75th minute goal equalized the game at 2-2 and forced a shootout against D.C. United in the very first playoff game in MetroStars history. He also converted one of six MetroStars shootout goals to secure a victory.

13. Tony Meola, goalkeeper (1996)

In that first playoff encounter, Meola made seven saves in regulation and two more in the shootout -- on Raul Diaz Arce and another on Richie Williams. Two other United players -- Clint Peay and Eddie Pope -- shot wide right and goalkeeper Jeff Causey (a shootout specialist who replaced starter Mark Simpson in the 90th minute) placed his attempt wide left.

14. Peter Vermes, midfielder (1996)

Vermes etched his name into MetroStars history by converting the winning shootout goal in a marathon tie-breaker (6-5 after a 2-2 draw) in the very first playoff game in club history, a win over D.C. United at Giants Stadium on Sept. 24. Vermes' winning kick, however, wasn't without controversy. United coach Bruce Arena claimed that Vermes had forfeited his attempt because he was ineligible to take a kick as the 11th shooter after asking to be moved from the eighth spot to a later position due to a leg injury. United filed a protest with the league, but it was rejected about an hour after the game. ''The rule is that the 11 players that finished the game on the field have to shoot, and I was the 11th man," Vermes told the New York Times. Commissioner Doug Logan's take: "The fundamental question we were looking for was whether the change in sequence gave an unfair advantage to the MetroStars, and it's my opinion it did not." It is one of only six playoff games the club has won. D.C., incidentally, won the next two games and eventually captured the MLS Cup.

16. Mehdi Ballouchy, midfielder (2011)

A much-maligned reserve by the media and fans, Ballouchy came on for an injured Dax McCarty in the 59th minute of the 2-0 wildcard win over FD Dallas on Oct. 26. Two minutes later, he made an impact, sending Lindpere a short pass from the right wing for the first goal of the match at Pizza Hut Park.

17. Frank Rost, goalkeepeer (2011)

The veteran German keeper caught, parried or knocked away everything FC Dallas sent his way in that wildcard win in Frisco, Texas on Oct. 26. He was as solid as a rock as the Red Bulls won their fourth consecutive road playoff match.

18. Mark Chung, midfielder (2000)

A quiet person who led his playing speak for him, Chung struck for the first goal in the 2-0 win over he Dallas Burn at Giants Stadium, which clinched the quarterfinal series for the MetroStars. Chung scored an unassisted goal in the 40th minute.

19. Thierry Henry (2011)

The former French international tallied his first playoff goal to put an exclamation point eight minutes into stoppage time on a counterattack in the 2-0 win at FC Dallas on Oct. 26. Second later, the game was called and the Red Bulls had a win.

20. Petter Villegas, midfielder (2001)

Had the MetroStars won this encounter with the Los Angeles Galaxy, this accomplishment would have been placed much higher in the pecking order. As it is, two goals in the 4-2 loss was pretty damn good for a midfielder. He connected in the 49th minute and added another 11 minutes later.

21. Tim Howard, goalkeeper (2001)

Howard made a team playoff record 16 saves in the 4-2 loss to the Galaxy, which eliminated the MetroStars from the playoffs at the Rose Bowl.

22. Jozy Altidore, forward (2006)

After the Red Bulls were blanked by D.C. United in the opening leg, 1-0, Altidore struck in the 70th minute to equalize the total goals series at 1-1. But eventually Christian Gomez found the back of the net four minutes from time to break the Red Bulls hearts for the countless time.

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