October 27, 2013
Red Bulls secure their 1st piece of hardware by routing the Fire, 5-2 to win Supporters Shield
By Michael Lewis
|Red Bulls coach Mike Petke celebrates winning the Suppoters Shield.
Jeff Zelevansky/New York Red Bulls
HARRISON, N.J. - After 18 years of futility, frustration and failure, the Red Bulls finally have a piece of hardware they can call their own.
The Red Bulls completed their Major League Soccer regular season in style by securing the Supporters Shield on Sunday, rolling over the Chicago Fire, 5-2, before a capacity crowd of 25,219 at Red Bull Arena.
Captain Thierry Henry and Ibrahim Sekagya scored goals the first two goals and Jonny Steele added the final one in the 84th minute. Forward--turned-midfielder Peguy Luyindula settled into his new role well, recording three assists and setting up insurance goals by Lloyd Sam and Eric Alexander as the Red Bulls finished the regular season with a league-best 59 points on the strength of a 17-9-8 record. The Fire (14-13-7, 49) finished out of the playoff picture.
The Red Bulls' mission is far from finished, but the first part of the puzzle was put in place, much to the delight of their faithful as they extended their unbeaten streak to eight games (6-0-2).
They have the MLS Cup playoffs on the horizon in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the winner of Houston and Montreal in the knockout round matchup. The first game, an away affair, will be played on Saturday, Nov. 2 or Sunday 3, with the home encounter at RBA on Nov. 6 or 7.
When referee Ismail Elfath blew his whistle twice to signify the end of the match, the playoffs were hardly on any of the playersí minds. Fireworks heralded the new Supporters Shield winners as the players and coaching staff celebrated in front of the South Ward and the rest of their fans on an unforgettable Sunday afternoon.
No one was more relieved and ecstatic than head coach Mike Petke, who was tear-eyed after the Red Bulls tallied the fourth goal of the match in the 77th minute. About 20 minutes later he was holding the Supporters Shield over his head in triumph.
"I donít think itís going to fully hit me for a couple of hours but I can tell you these last two weeks were," he said. "The pressure and the stress that I felt on my shoulders, that I put myself under, I feel like to be honest with you, I can handle anything in life now. It was tough, very emotional the last two weeks.
"I just kept having this reoccurring thought, you know, and I tried to explain it to my wife. I just didnít want to let down the fan base, I didnít want to let down the organization being so close after so many years of heartache, I guess you could say. It was a tough two weeks, so it hasnít sunk in right now. After the third goal went in, there was a bit of relief, and then the fourthÖand what did we score, five goals this week? Fourth and fifth, it was great."
It was more than great. It was an historical moment for a team that has endured probably more futility than any other team in MLS' 18-year history. It started with Nicola Caricola scoring an own goal for the MetroStars (the team was named that) in the Red Bulls' first home match in 1996 and it continued with more than a dozen head coaches, more than 250 players and disappointing and frustrating ends to the season.
The Red Bulls know there's plenty more to play with the playoffs set to kick off next week, but they savored the night.
"Great night," Henry said. "Itís an amazing thing for this club. For the fans, I guess they have been waiting for a very long time for that. Me too, since Iíve been here. Like I said so many times, if we were in Europe we would have been celebrating for a week and go on a holiday, but thatís not the case in MLS, You have to win the playoffs. Itís a great night, I think we have to enjoy it and come back tomorrow, next week, or whenever weíre going to be back in training, and prepare for the playoffs."
During a four-goal second half, the game-winner came in the 50th minute. Chicago defender Gonzalo Segares fouled Sam some 25 yards out on the right side. On the ensuing free kick, Henry launched a ball to the left side of the penalty area that Dax MCarty headed on net. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson knocked the ball away, resulting in a scramble for the ball. Sekagya hit the ball, which went off Johnson to Cahill, who pushed it into the net for a 2-1 lead.
Cahill grabbed the ball, slid on the ground in celebration. He then slammed it to the grass.
The Red Bulls did not take long to add an insurance tally -- on Sam's fifth goal of the season six minutes later. Luyindula found the midfielder on the right side of the penalty area. Sam then sent a shot to the upper right corner that Johnson had no chance on for a 3-1 advantage.
The hosts were far from finished as Luyindula found a streaking Alexander down the right wing. Alexander, who had replaced Sam in the 74th minute, raced in on goal, put a faked on Johnson and fired a shot that hit the left post and into the net for a 4-1 advantage in the 77th minute.
Steele put an exclamation point on the victory, scoring in the 84th minute.
Former Red Bulls midfielder Joel Lindpere, a late-match substitute, set up Quincy Amarikwa via a corner kick on a 90th-minute goal.
Petke shuffled the lineup a bit, placing Cahill, normally a central midfielder, up top alongside Henry, a striker, and putting Luyindula, who has been a bust as a part-time forward, at central mid. It took a while, but it worked almost to perfection.
Playing the role of poacher, Mike Magee lifted Chicago into a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute. New Jersey product Dilly Duka sent a 28-yard blast that a diving Luis Robles knocked away with both hands. However, he left the rebound and the former Red Bull slotted it home from five yards for his 21st goal of the season.
"This team has too much experience to let our heads go down when we get scored on," midfielder Dax McCarty said. "I think weíve been a team that has shown traits of not conceding goals early anymore like we used to and then when we did we are mature enough, weíre responsible enough, and weíre accountable enough to make sure we donít let it happen again."
The Red Bulls equalized in the 24th minute, on Henry's 10th goal of the season and first goal since Sept. 14. Left back David Carney started the scoring play with a pass to Luyindula in the midfield. Luyindula launched a long, looping ball to Henry, who chested it down and blasted a 22-yard shot that ricocheted off the crossbar and into the net past a surprised Johnson. The goal was Henry's 41st of his Red Bulls career, tying him with former MetroStars' striker Giovanni Savarese, now coach of the New York Cosmos, on the club's all-time scoring list.
"It wasnít a great start, the first half Iím trying to think of besides the goal many positives from the first half," Petke said. "And to be honest with you, I started questioning if I was asking too much of my players after the last eight games, the results weíve gotten, and the magnitude surrounding this game. Halftime, when Thierry scored that goal, it was a great feeling. I knew at that moment,
"We got to halftime, that they would come out sparked. I didnít know what would happen, but I knew I knew theyíd come out fired up. I think when you look that (first) 45í, they were very hyper. We had a great week of practice leading up to this game, almost too good to be honest with you, and perhaps that first 45 minutes was a way for them to get the, for lack of a better word, crap out of their system and second half they came out blazing."