Photo by ISIphotos.com
On the roller coaster that has been the New York Red Bulls most memorable season ever, there has been one constant – Dave van den Bergh. The Dutch midfielder is second on the team with eight goals, including the game-winning strike in the 28th minute to lift the Red Bulls to a 1-0 win against Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Final Saturday night.
“He has been magnificent for us,” Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio said.
While the Red Bulls have battled all kinds of adversity – from star forward Jozy Altidore being sold to Villarreal, designated player Claudio Reyna retiring to the performance-enhancing drug suspensions of starters Jon Conway and Jeff Parke – van den Bergh never wavered.
Seemingly every cross from the left side is a dangerous one and when the club was without Altidore, Reyna and Juan Pablo Angel, who battled injuries in the first half of the season, van den Bergh was the team’s best player.
“He’s just got a great sense of when there’s going to be a chance,” John Wolyniec said. “For a flank player he just has an incredible instinct of where the ball is going to end up. When it’s there and he’s there he does a great job of finishing it.”
That was the case Saturday when van den Bergh scored the biggest goal in club history. He also started the play with a ball up the left side to Wolyniec. RSL defender Jamison Olave missed a slide tackle, allowing Wolyniec to run free inside the 18-yard box.
He crossed along the six, where Juan Pablo Angel missed a sliding attempt as Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando got a touch on the ball. Van den Bergh completed his 60-yard run by tapping the ball in at the far post.
“It was ugly, it was lucky, but for this franchise we’re going to have to take it any way it comes,” van den Bergh said. “We won this title and next year around this time nobody will know how the game went. They’ll just see the result – New York Red Bulls won the Western Conference.”
Van den Bergh also scored the first goal in Rio Tinto Stadium history, a 31st-minute strike in a 1-1 draw on Oct. 9. That was his first game back from sports hernia surgery.
“I knew Dave was going to score,” Dane Richards said. “Every game he’s played against Real Salt Lake he’s scored this season. He just capitalized on a nice goal.”
Few gave the Red Bulls a shot following a 5-2 drubbing by the Chicago Fire in their final regular-season game. But the Red Bulls got some help from the Columbus Crew, which knocked off D.C. United on the final day of the regular season to book New York’s postseason ticket.
“It was just a second chance and we all realized it was one,” van den Bergh said. “We took it and took full advantage of it and for a lot of these guys this is the first final that they’re in. It’s just a great atmosphere in the locker room and around the team. We just figured it takes 11 guys working very hard to get a result. That’s what we do.”
And now van den Bergh and the Red Bulls are improbable MLS Cup finalists. Is this a team of destiny? We’ll see on Sunday, but van den Bergh said there is certainly something magical happening.
“March Madness has Cinderellas right? I’ll tell you what, MLS Cup has one, too,” van den Bergh said. “The last team to quality, but we’re right there.”