By RYAN TOLMICH
HARRISON, N.J. — With just two games remaining in the regular season, the New York Red Bulls all but confirmed their status as a postseason team while dooming Toronto FC to yet another October departure.
The Red Bulls picked up their fifth win in seven games by knocking off Toronto FC, 3-1, at Red Bull Arena via goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips, Ruben Bover and Dax McCarty. As a result, the Red Bulls can clinch a postseason position as soon as Sunday, while Toronto FC are on the verge of playoff elimination.
Wright-Phillips’ opening goal came in the 27th minute, as the Red Bulls forward tapped home a cross from fullback Kosuke Kimura to give his side the lead.
Kimura, who hadn’t started for the Red Bulls since June 8th, found himself in space on the left side before playing a ball across the six-yard-box to a cutting Wright-Phillips. The English forward proceeded to finish from close range for his 25th goal of the season, which leaves Wright-Phillips two goals behind the MLS record.
After the game, the Red Bulls were quick to praise Kimura, who contributed both offensively and defensively despite being played out of position at left back.
“Kosuke got an assist and, for the most part, defended pretty well,” McCarty said. “Jackson’s a tricky guy and he took advantage of Kosuke a little bit in the beginning, but he figured it out. In the second half, I thought he was probably our best defender.”
“It’s not easy for a guy, Kosuke has not played for a really long time,” said Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry. “He showed his experience on the left. It’s always awkward, especially if you’re not comfortable with your left foot, to go out there and perform and he did it.”
Just eight minutes after Wright-Phillips’ finish, the Red Bulls doubled their advantage through the seldom-used Bover, whose goal was the first of his MLS career.
Bover, who was making just his second start of the season, took full advantage following a spectacular stop from TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik. The leaping save saw Bendik push the ball back into play, where it deflected to Bover, who slid the ball near post to push the lead to two.
“We’ve been waiting for him to give us something since he’s been here and he did it,” Henry said of Bover. “You could see that everybody was happy when he scored because we knew how great it was for him to perform. His family was here and everything, so it worked out for him at the end, and for us too.”
The Red Bulls added their third in the 44th minute through McCarty, who redirected a shot from Wright-Phillips for his third goal of the season.
After receiving the ball from winger Lloyd Sam, Wright-Phillips rocketed a shot across the box that was set to go well wide. However, the ball found its way to an open McCarty, who was barely onside, and the Red Bulls midfielder tapped into the open net for the host’s third goal.
“Down 3-0 at halftime, there’s not much else you could do,” said a dejected Michael Bradley after the game. “Go for it. I thought the second half was good, given the circumstances.”
The visitors opened that second half strong by pulling back a goal in the 55th minute via a Jonathan Osorio finish.
Osorio’s goal came from close range, as the TFC midfielder tapped home a cross from defender Justin Morrow to pull his side within two goals.
That was exactly where that scoreline remained, as the Red Bulls proved to be the more menacing team throughout the remainder of the game with Wright-Phillips’ nearly doubling his nightly tally in both the 65th and 78th minute.
TFC’s evening symbolically culminated in a red card for rookie defender Nick Hagglund, who was sent off for elbowing Armando as his side slumped to their third straight defeat.
The result knocked Toronto FC out of the playoffs, effectively ending a season that started with high expectations and so much hope.
“It’s been frustrating for every guy in here,” Bradley said. “When you’re on the inside of something, you come in every day and you spill everything you have into it. When it doesn’t go the way that everybody hopes, when you’re not able to achieve what you talk about all year, than sure. It’s frustrating. It’s part of it.”
With the victory, the Red Bulls can clinch a postseason spot as soon as Sunday, depending on the result of the Houston Dynamo’s clash with D.C. United. Although D.C. United result would lock up a spot in the playoffs for the Red Bulls, McCarty was quick to point out that you wouldn’t find him pulling for his side’s biggest rivals.
“Never, I’ll never root for D.C.,” McCarty joked after the game. “I don’t really care who wins to be honest. I’ll just root for a draw.”
The Red Bulls while be back in action Oct. 19 against the Columbus Crew, while Toronto FC’s next action comes Oct. 18 against the Impact.