By JONATHAN VERA
CARSON, Calif. – The Western Conference final second leg between the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls certainly lived up to its much-anticipated hype. Aggression was high, tempers flared and drama unfolded after a quick start by the Red Bulls, but in the end, New York took the long plane ride home broken and defeated.
Luke Rodgers set the tone early on. Immediately after scoring a shock goal in the fourth minute, he was booked after taking down David Beckham right after the restart. The mercurial New York striker soon after turned 20,000 fans against him after smashing a ball that was clearly heading out of bounds into the stands. The jeers only fueled him even more.
"We had a great start. You can't ask for anything more," Rodgers said. "We needed a goal, we came here, we got the goal, we were on top and then we concede a goal on the set piece just before half time. Whenever a team scores before halftime it gives them a massive lift, and that's what killed us."
However, it's not as simple as Rodgers makes it out to be. Much of what derailed New York's early success surrounded a 16th-minute injury to central midfielder Teemu Tainio that forced him out of the match.
"It was a massive blow to lose Tainio that early in the game," said Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe. "He was definitely a key player without (Rafa) Marquez. He was involved in almost every buildup from the back four when he drops from his midfield position. He's the guy with the precise final passes in our attacking game. We lost both the attacking and defending."
Tainio suffered a right hamstring strain and was replaced by midseason acquisition Stephane Auvray. The injury forced Thierry Henry to pull back from his withdrawn striker position even more as the Red Bulls tried to fill the void of the Finnish player.
Plenty in the visitors' locker room credited Tainio's untimely exit as the turning point in the game.
"People probably give us a lot of credit for coming out and playing the first 20 minutes the way we did," said Dax MaCarty, who started alongside Tainio in place of the suspended Marquez. "They couldn't get the ball, and then unfortunately we lost Teemu and lost our rhythm."
The loss of Tainio, which forced the Red Bulls to play with two second-choice central midfielders, made New York adjust on the fly with high stakes on the line and negated much of the Red Bulls' advantage in the midfield considering that the Galaxy were forced to play without the suspended Juninho.
"Certainly you never want to lose a player, especially in the middle of the park that early to an injury, but that being said, even with him in there the game started to be back and forth," McCarty said. "When he got taken out we had to figure things out how to play and keep our organization, but unfortunately the Galaxy took advantage of that in that little period when we were trying to figure out the new personnel."