Photo by ISIphotos.com
The New York Red Bulls pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in MLS playoff history on Sunday, knocking off the two-time defending champion Houston Dynamo, 3-0, in the decisive second-leg of their Western Conference playoff series.
Dane Richards scored the opening goal of the match, drew a penalty to set up the second goal, then finished Houston off with a 65-yard run before setting up John Wolyniec for the third goal as the Red Bulls booked a spot in the Western Conference final against Real Salt Lake.
While Richards was terrorrizing the Houston defense, Red Bulls goalkeeper Danny Cepero was enjoying the best game of his young career. Cepero made six clutch saves, most of the highlight-reel variety, as he and a organized and gutsy Red Bulls defense kept the Dynamo off the scoreboard in a decisive home game.
The victory means the Red Bulls will face Real Salt Lake on Saturday for a place in the 2008 MLS Cup final.
"We were physical, scored on chances that we created, we defended with our lives, we were a team, a unit," said Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel, who converted a penalty kick for the Red Bulls second goal.
"If you play like that you always have a chance to beat anyone."
The Red Bulls looked like they might get overwhelmed early on as Houston applied good attacking pressure and Cepero struggled with some early jitters, but Cepero eventually found his feet and began making some key saves, including an early stop on a close-range shot from DeRosario.
"There were some times when I kind of laughed to myself when Danny made some of those saves because those are the ones that keep us in the games, especially big games," Red Bulls defender Andrew Boyens said of Cepero. "(Cepero) was quality tonight. Hopefully he can keep on doing that for us."
While Cepero kept Houston off the board, Richards was busy abusing Dynamo captain Wade Barrett on the flank. He ran onto a long pass from Sinisa Ubiparipovic, raced past Barrett and slammed home a 12-yard blast to make the score 1-0.
Richards torched Barrett again just 11 minutes later, getting in behind Barrett before sending a cross off the hand of Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark. Angel converted the penalty kick to make the score 2-0.
Houston adjusted in the second half by replacing Barrett with the speedy Corey Ashe, but Ashe was also toasted, as Richards capped a mazy 65-yard run with a perfect pass to John Wolyniec, who tapped home from close range for his first career playoff goal and first goal of the 2008 season.
“Every game I try to perform as best as I can but today was exceptional I guess,” Richards said. “And it’s a historic game so I’m happy I could do it today, and hopefully I can do it next week also.”
The victory was a satisfying one for Osorio, who watched his lineup decisions pay off in the playoffs after shaking up his squad following an embarrrassing 5-2 regular-season ending loss to Chicago. After that loss he inserted Luke Sassano and Sinisa Ubiparipovic into the starting lineup along with John Wolyniec and that trio helped form the physical, tireless and determined squad that knocked off the Dynamo.
"I was one hundred percent sure that this team would give me its best," Osorio said of the starting lineup he used to beat Houston. "I felt we could play a certain way that would make it difficult for opponents to play against us and you saw that with Houston."
Now the Red Bulls turn their attentions to Real Salt Lake, knowing that one more win will put them into the MLS Cup final. Given the way the team has looked in the post-season, and with the confidence they are sure to draw from upsetting Houston, the Red Bulls have suddenly gone from a team that barely made the playoffs to a team that looks capable of reaching the final.
"I hear a lot of people say that we didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs and I think that’s nonsense," Angel said. "We’re here and now people are starting to talk about us.
"It’s not over," Angel said. "We know that we’re on the doorstep of the big party of the year. We would like to get it right, but we have a very difficult challenge ahead.