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Luck and its role in the Red Bulls dream run


Here we stand, a day after one of the exciting, heart-stopping and unforgettable playoff games in MLS history and there are plenty of people, both Red Bulls fans and neutrals, who are still scratching their heads at the improbability of the Red Bulls earning a place in the MLS Cup final.

Notice that word, earning. Whether you’re one of those "they didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs people" or not, you can’t really argue with the fact that the Red Bulls endured and overcame an incredible amount of adversity to reach this point.

I will offer a more thorough breakdown of the match, as well as some behind-the-scenes notes on Monday (two cross-country flights in 30 hours have wiped me out), but for now I wanted to discuss the role that luck played in last night’s Red Bulls victory:

I had touch on one sentiment I’m hearing a lot of, that the Red Bulls were lucky to win last night. Nobody on the Red Bulls denies that, and several people ranging from Juan Carlos Osorio to Dave Van Den Bergh said as much. Apparently some people forget that luck is part of the game and the Red Bulls worked hard enough and played well enough to take advantage of it. While Real Salt Lake had tons of close chances, and hit the post three times, the Red Bulls fought and clawed and played better than some critics are acknowledging this Sunday.

What some observers are failing to realize as well is the fact that the Red Bulls have had more than their fair share of bad luck in the playoffs through the years. From the last-minute penalty call that helped D.C. United beat the MetroStars in that first series in 1996, to the offside calls (one made, one not made) that cost the MetroStars in the 2000 Eastern Conference final, to the Bob Bradley years, when New England and D.C. United benefited from the MetroStars bad luck in the form of shaky calls (along with some poor play), or the late goals that crushed the club’s playoff hopes in 2005 and 2006.

If anything, the Red Bulls have been due for some playoff luck for some time, and this year it has come in droves, both against Houston and last night against Real Salt Lake. On some level it is funny to hear Real Salt Lake fans bemoan their bad luck when this year has marked just their first foray into the MLS playoffs. Enduring playoff heartbreak is a rite of passage and last night’s match will go down in the history books for both RSL and Red Bulls fans. When Real Salt Lake’s time comes, it will be made that much sweeter by the agony endured last night at Rio Tinto Stadium. I mean really, who will forget that game and it’s heart attack-inducing suspense, and for RSL, its heart-breaking finish?

So before you go complaining about the Red Bulls good luck you might want to think about the fact that it took 12 years of misery, a dozen years of bad bounces, blown calls, blown leads and terrible luck to get to this mother lode of good luck the Red Bulls have been graced with. Luckily for the Red Bulls and their fans, the team has come together and played well enough to make sure that this good luck didn’t go to waste.


  1. RBNY fans dont care if their team plays ugly, they just want to win.

    Lets not forget they Bulls are capable of positive play. NY 5-4 LA anyone?

    Crap games happen. Lets hope the Final will be attack minded and free flowing on both sides.

  2. Roberto is scared of what others will think of him. Poor Roberto.

    Counterattacking soccer away from home is the norm, especially in knockout competitions. I don’t see how anybody who has followed the sport could miss this.

    The real issue with these people is that they simply hate the NY franchise. They can f*ck off for all I care. NY is in the final. Let me repeat that: NY is in the final.

  3. Camjam, I respect your opinion but you might want to consider the possibility that it is impossible for an RSL fan to be objective about that game, let alone an RSL fan that was at the game.


    Yet Ives feel completely impartial and objective, despite the fact he is clearly Red Bulls Fan, and follower, and was at the game himself. Just because you have sucked for 12 years doesn’t mean you are “due”.

  4. Yeah, JA played for them at one time… But did you see that game MS? RB style of play is ugly and annoying, and any half decent team with the slightest bit of luck will beat them. Sadly, no lucky team has played them in 2 weeks.

  5. talk about representing MLS to the world… Can you imagine if the RB wins the thing? How many goals did barca score at giants stadium?

    What is the world gonna think?

    “RB are US champs? Is that the little team that barca went to play a scrimmage with”

    thats how bad a RB win would be for the image if MLS.

    Columbus must win… For MLS’s sake!!

  6. Utahns always have piss and vinegar for New Yorkers. I never get it. Just play the game and let your game do the talking not your mouth. If RSL was any good, they would have at least scored a goal. Even when the ref allowed your fans to screen Cepero with smokebombs on your freekicks, RSL still couldn’t score. Worry about your own house, guys.

  7. Another aspect of luck that the Red Bulls have had this playoff is that they’ve been facing teams that they’ve pretty much done well against this season. As bad as their season has been, they’ve had winning records against the Dynamo (split the season series, but RB had more goals), RSL (who have never beaten the RB’s in their history) and also against the Crew who they’ll face next week in the final. The brackets could not have worked out better for them.

  8. the only reason I’m happy withRB win is for Ives who genuinely likes them and for this great blog he brings to all of us whiners.

    but to say that I like this team and that they deserved it… No way.

    I’ve said it before and will say it again; even though I’m in the NY area, I will never support this team, I’m not a localist, don’t have any ties to Columbus other than my sister went to Denison univ in Ohio.. I really want Columbus to win period. They’re the most entertaining to watch, and they were the real underdogs at the beginning of 08. And they convinced everybody with attractive football and unity…. Not LUCK like the RB… Because that was luck my friend to play two good games at the end of the season does not erase anything… I can’t believe this is happening!! And if they win I will stop watching MLS… For a good while at least…. I just can’t stand the RB with their ugly players/football sorry….GO CREW!!!!

  9. I’m an RSL fan and was at the game last night. Maybe this has already been said, but even though we had those shots that went off the posts, we had two or three sitters that our strikers launched far into the stands. While luck had something to do with RBNY’s win, some of the clear chances we had, we just did not convert.

  10. jeez what a bunch of whiners.

    luck is part of the game, get over it. John Terry slipped on a PK and possibly cost Chelsea the champions league…unlucky? yes..but thats part of the game.

    Yeah the Red Bulls bunkered down, but I distinctly remember 2 plays where the ball was skied over the net by RSL..any other team would have put the ball in the net not in the stands. RB took their chance and capitalized on it, thats what counts in this game.

    Im tired of all the football snobs pretending like they know what playing “football” should be about. Negative soccer? what a load of crap.Instead of complaining try going out and playing the actual game.

    People fail to realize that NY had many rookies in the line up. Sassano(rookie)? Cepero(rookie)? Ubiparipovic(hasnt played all season)? Jimenez (Mexican 2nd divison)? Boyens(TFC reject and that says alot)? Goldthwaite(speaks for itself)? Wolyniec(first goal of the season came in the previous game)?? Sounds like a star studded line up, right?

    bottom line is RB played the game with a gameplan, you dont like it? too bad. go cry somewhere else. this is football, not a tickling competition.

    Critics will be critics but I am tired of the dismissive attitude, if NY “didn’t deserve it” then maybe NY shouldn’t be the one advancing..past 2 teams it didnt “deserve” to beat.

    As far as Lalas is concerned. Ives did the right thing by calling Lalas out, its one thing to predict an outcome and none of us expected NY to win, but its another thing to gloat about it. Lalas predicted that outcome and actually placed a wager as if to say there is absolutely NO WAY NY will win. This aggravated a lot of NY fans, considering that Lalas was the GM that ran RB into the ground and then resigned to take over Galaxy and we all know how that turned out.

  11. whatever you RSL fans felt in Rio Tinto the other night just multiply that by 10 to feel RB fan’s pain over the past 12 years.Is been total hell the past 12 years with the exception of about a year when Mathis was ripping it up. Man up and swallow the loss.

    be mad at your players for not finishing their chances, dont be mad at RB for doing whatever they could to win.

  12. Thanks for the post, Ives. what’s that saying? luck = opportunity + preparation. the Red Bulls made the most of their opportunities, shut down their opponent’s chances (clean sheets are hard to come by), made excellent use of their goalposts, plus prepared very hard for these playoff games. the team clearly did some tough mental preparation to turn around their woeful road record. I’m proud of this team and will gratefully accept luck along with the opportunities and preparation that went into these remarkable victories! Go Red Bulls!!!

  13. I’ll make it real simple. If you don’t want to rely on luck, you score a goal. Red Bull did. Real Salt Lake didn’t. How much luck was involved in the blown shots? Or should we call it lack of skill under pressure?

    Whatever. Red Bull bunkered, and that’s why the play seemed so one sided. 10 men defending wasn’t luck.

  14. Good for the Red Bulls! About luck on the other hand…the Revolution and Buffalo Bills, now that’s unlucky…

  15. I now RSL fans will think they came within inches of scoring 3 times, but I was wonering if anyone has yet realized that when you hit the post not only were you a few inches from scoring, but you were also a few inches from missing completely….


  16. I love how Ives puts everything into perspective and then everything agrees. anyways, I think that the Red Bulls, while they’ve had their bad games, have the potential to play a kind of football thats very entertaining. The final should be attacking football to the max. should be great.

  17. Oh, and Ferri, I love how you and others somehow try to make the NYRBs some poor team with no salary. The starting salary of their starting 11 was almost 2x as much as that of RSL’s starting 11 ($1,292,584 less than what you pay JPA). If you add the salaries of the respective coaching staffs it probably quadruples. Give me a break! The salary without JPA and Vand… they were on the field playing, their salary counts! The salary of the starting 11 of RSL was $52,571 if you only count Johnson. Wow!

  18. Ives,

    Of course luck has a place in the game, and the NYRB have had their share this year. And yes, they deserve to be in the final. Under the present rules, whether you agree with them or not, they came have come out ahead, so should be where they are. It might be different if the refs had handed them the game by some bad officiating, but I was at the RSL game, and while I thought there were some questionable calls, I don’t think any of them were outlandishly bad, and that’s a part of soccer.

    What I will say is this: it’s too bad that in MLS’s biggest, highest profile game where most fans internationally and home are most likely to watch and make a judgement about the MLs and American soccer, that the biggest market team that plays negative defensive soccer is being represented on that stage. If they play like they did in the semi-final, it sure won’t help the MLS’s image here or abroad and win any new fans over.

    Houston was a worthy Champion, Columbus would be a good representative the way they play, NYRBs no, and I state this simply on style of play, not on any other criteria.

  19. In a nut shell-

    “Why does RSL deserve to win when they couldn’t put a ball in the net.”

    Captures the game perfectly. Well said, Ives.

  20. Great read, Ives. I, for one, am a little sick of the dismissive attitude that I’ve been seeing the past few weeks. In what other pro sport would you see such an outcry of the negativity when the underdog came through and made a run to the finals? The Tampa Bay Rays were lucky to go to the World Series too, right?

    It may not have been beautiful, but the Metros played their guts out for the past three weeks and showed tremendous heart and resolve. We should feel inspired, not slighted because these “pawns” have managed to get outstanding wins.

    My final thought-if my figures and math are correct the NY starters that beat Houston last week had an annual salary of ~$2,195,000; if you don’t count Angel it was ~$602,000; if you don’t count Angel and Van Den Bergh it was ~$355,000. That’s about $45,000 less than Major League Baseball’s minimum wage. I’ve never been more proud of this side.

  21. 1. Sorry, Ives, I think it’s a bit weak to say that this year’s playoff run and luck is just payback for earlier seasons. I don’t see Metros and Redbull has been tremendously unlucky franchises on the field. What I see is a team that has been horrendously mismanaged and consistently tried to hire big names rather than just build a credible, competent team. And that tendency to over-reach and have bad people in key management roles consistently produced teams that didn’t get results.

    2. Yes, bad finishing by RSL and Houston. But both of those teams have had trouble finishing all year (RSL especially when Movsisiyan wasn’t hot).

    3. I think the larger points are this:

    –with Angel, you have a player who is MONEY and can grab a goal given half a chance. And in the playoffs that means you need to score 2-3-4 times to be sure of beating the RedBulls.

    –Van den Bergh was unappreciated in KC, originally unappreciated by JCO yet has possibly been the RedBulls MVP this season in my book. He’s been the ONLY consistent midfield player all year and he’s produced at key moments.

    –Houston couldn’t handle outside speed. In 2 matches, Richard was dominant in one. And that decided match #2 in the playoffs.

    –Cepero has been onfire and the defense (with no depth) has held it together. To me, that has been the unlikely part. All the other stuff (RSL and Houston fail to finish, Van den Bergh makes clutch plays, Angel dangerous when it counts, Richards creates problems for Barrett) is not surprising in the least.

    Did I expect RedBulls to be here? Absolutely not. I didn’t think Cepero and the backline would get it done. But they have. Everything else has been on par for expectations or at least not out of the norm.

  22. Well Ives, perhaps the NYRB do deserve a break after all these years; but fans of good football should be appalled.

    Do you deny that the NYRB plays an aesthetically ugly game of football?

    Talk about the epitome of anti-football, and I’m not even a fan of the term.

    There were a few moments of excitement during last night’s match, but by in large, the play was boring and ugly.

    The match had no flow, was full of turnovers, and had a heavy dose of long ball. yay…

    Would you disagree with that assessment?

    Moreover, teams like the NYRB are bad for the image of MLS.

    1) If they go on to win the champion, they would do so with a losing record. Tell me that this isn’t wrong.

    2) Tell me, if someone tuned in for MLS for the first time last night, what do you think are their general impression of the league?

    I convinced a few people to watch, and let me tell you, they think even less of MLS now than they did beforehand.

    For the sake of MLS, I pray that the nationally televised Championship match on ABC will be much improved from last night’s performance.

  23. Whoops, posted the same thought twice, didn’t think it went through.

    I live in the city so I’ll be interested to see what kind of coverage NYRBs final appearance gets.

  24. What made me say lucky was that post throwing Alexi Lalas’s predictions in his face.

    He made a completely rational prediction, going with a team with better season success, playing at home with a supportive crowd.

    I hate Lalas but that was unnecessary and had a touch of emotion to which most observers would usually “calm down alright, you were pretty lucky to make it through that game”

  25. Good points, RNBY has been a spectacularly unsucessful team, so I guess they’re due. As a RSL fan this loss still stings, even though its the first playoffs for us as fans, we’ve been pretty snakebitten as a franchise. Here’s hoping there will be a next time, when this loss will make it feel sweeter.

  26. I think the throwing Alexi Lalas’s prediction in his face unnecessarily was what made some people pull the ‘your lucky’ card.

    I don’t think people were going to say too much about it until the ragging on Alexi, who was just making a prediction in agreement with most people. He basically said, unless they get some luck their way it’s probably going to be RSL. Which seems pretty close to what was said in this blog post.

  27. Come on guys, there is luck, and then there is possibly the most unattractive football ever played in playoff history! I mean as a Red Bull fan it is so hard to root for these guys because they play such horrendous soccer. I don’t thing they connected 3 passes all game! I mean how many times did their d just boot the ball out when they were under no pressure at all! It was pretty crazy how ugly and undeserved this win really was.

  28. Camjam – ermmmmmm, no, not at all.

    Even putting aside the truth that “at the end of the game, the team with the most goals wins”, Red Bull simply had a better game plan.

    They played a good first half. I would argue a little better than RSL. They went in 1-0 at the half.

    The 2nd half, they bunkered. I actually am not a huge fan of them doing it so early, but that was what they did. And, sure, luck played some part in it, but you also have to realize that the Red Bulls withstood a ferocious RSL attack. The midfield, defense, and especially Cepero did great.

    You’re also forgetting the 2 or 3 counter-attacks that Red Bull had (with Dane Richards whiffing on 2 of them) in the 2nd half. The score could have been 2-1 RSL, sure. But it also could have been 3-0 Red Bull.

    So, yeah. The Red Bulls played better than some critics are giving them credit for. But by this point we’re used to people underestimating us and not giving us credit.

  29. Come on Camjam, get some perspective. As a neutral fan, that was one of the 5 least deserved wins I’ve seen. This year. Maybe. LOL, you don’t think being a die-hard RSL fan colors your view?

    When you give up a goal and can’t finish, surprises happen, even if you dominate play from box to box.

  30. Camjam, I respect your opinion but you might want to consider the possibility that it is impossible for an RSL fan to be objective about that game, let alone an RSL fan that was at the game. Why? Well, when you’re at a home game like Saturday night’s then you’re going to cheer for everything RSL does well, boo with every alledged bad call and generally ignore anything the opposing team does well.

    As for “undeserved”, the point of the game is to score more than your opponent. Why did RSL “deserve” to win when it couldn’t put one ball in the net?

  31. i just don’t want to sit through another game of sit back and pray for a defensive mistake to exploit, possession was 56% to 44%, me no like negative soccer

  32. You usually have to get some “breaks” along the way to win the MLS Cup. If you play well enough to be in position to get the breaks, and then take advantage of them, good for you. We in Houston have gotten some the last two years (red cards for opponents in 2nd half of 2nd leg in first round) and didn’t get any this year.

    I will say that it does appear that the Red Bulls have gotten a pretty good or disproportionate share of the breaks but the way we crown a “champion” in MLS, this is part of the deal.

  33. Come on ives “the Red Bulls fought and clawed and played better than some critics are acknowledging this Sunday”. You watched the game. I am a die-hard RSL fan, and I understand your points about how long NY has suffered, but that was possibly the most undeserved win I’ve every seen in a game, let alone a play off game.


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