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November 8, 2012
Red Bulls eliminated from MLS playoffs again

Kenny Cooper missed a penalty kick in the 73rd minute.
Kenny Cooper missed a penalty kick in the 73rd minute.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis Editor

HARRISON, N.J. -- Another year, another elimination.

The Red Bulls crashed out of the MLS Cup playoffs on Thursday night -- again.

They have no one to blame but themselves in a 1-0 defeat to D.C. United in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The victory gave United a 2-1 aggregate goals total and an opportunity to play in the conference final against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday.

It gave the Red Bulls another cold and frustrating off-season to wonder what might have been as their trophy drought was extended to 17 seasons, or since the league kicked off in 1996.

Striker Kenny Cooper missed a penalty kick that had to be retaken and a player with New York ties, D.C. rookie midfielder Nick DeLeon, did in the Red Bulls with a dramatic 88th-minute goal at cold Red Bull Arena, a night after noríeastern forced the game to be postponed a day.

ďItís not good enough," Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry said.

It was a crushing lost for the Red Bulls, who have been eliminated in the conference semifinals in all three seasons of Hans Backe's tenure as coach.

"I thought we didn't deserve to lose," midfielder Tim Cahill said. "We tried our hearts out and we fell short.

"I'm gobsmacked. Football throws up some difficult emotions and today there are a lot of emotional players. We ovhiously could have won the game. That's why it hurts so much."

DeLeon, whose father Leroy DeLeon performed for the New York Generals in the old National Professional Soccer League in 1967 and 1968, took a pass from Robbie Russell and beat goalkeeper Luis Robles for the game-winner in a game that was delayed a day by a nor'easter snowstorm and had a number of twists and turns.

"Itís unbelievable," DeLeon said. "Iím speechless. Just to be a part of this group, itís been a great journey. Itís not over yet, but itís been a great ride."

Cooper could have said what happened to him was unbelievable -- for entirely different reasons. He was denied a penalty kick goal in the 73rd minute.

After taking a pass from Dax McCarty, Cooper was tripped by goalkeeper Bill Hamid just inside the penalty area. Referee Mark Geiger immediately signaled for a penalty kick and then red carded Hamid in the 69th minute.

United coach Ben Olsen was forced to replace midfielder Branko Boskovic with reserve keeper Joe Willis for Cooper's penalty kick attempt. Cooper waited for Willis, inserted cold into the match, to make his move and he fired his attempt into the lower left corner in the 73rd minute.

However, the goal did not count as Geiger ruled that players had encroached in the area during the kick and had the kick retaken. Replays showed that Thierry Henry and an unidentified United defender had encroached.

ďNormally if a guy if our team comes in and a defender comes in, it equalizes everything,Ē he said. ďI know what actually happened.Ē

On his second try, also in the 73rd minute, Cooper decided to fire his shot to the lower right. This time Willis guessed correctly and made the save.

"I was saying earlier we had a similar situation last year when we played Portland and they took the PK," Willis said. "He went one side, got called back, and he went the other side. I was lucky that [I was] reminded of that before the game and I was lucky that I made the save.

Cahill would not allow any member of the media to talk to a sullen Cooper, who sat at his locker looking stunned.

"What can you say? Itís life," he said. "Iíve missed penalties in the past. I donít even for one instant blame him. He has 18 goals.

"I donít want him to talk, who wants to talk after that. Weíre a team, we look after each other and this is why Iím here. I want to make sure that my players can walk away with a bit of pride."
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