Bradley Wright-Phillips popped up at the death to give New York a 2-1 victory over defending MLS champions Sporting Kansas City in their Knockout Round clash at Red Bull Arena on Thursday night.
Wright-Phillips once again provided the difference in front of goal as the Red Bulls overcame their first-half wastefulness and a second-half deficit to arrange a date with D.C. United in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Dom Dwyer collected a Benny Feilhaber pass and slotted home to place Sporting KC in front after 53 minutes. Wright-Phillips procured the equalizer inside the final quarter of an hour to restore parity before taking advantage of slack marking to nod the winner inside the far post on the stroke of full time.
The decisive sequence seemingly unfolded in slow motion as Peguy Luyindula played Ambroise Oyongo down the right. Oyongo looped a high, arcing cross into the box. The ball hung in the air, but Sporting goalkeeper Eric Kronberg stayed on his line and center backs Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin failed to challenge the service. Wright-Phillips found himself in a surprising amount of space and turned the header inside the far post to decide the affair.
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It proved no less than the Red Bulls deserved on the night after they broke down Sporting’s organized defensive shape and finally produced the end product required to secure a first playoff victory at Red Bull Arena. Sporting huffed and puffed in a bid to hold onto its slender advantage, but its efforts ultimately faded with their legs as the second half progressed to send them out at the first hurdle.
The early exchanges revealed an improved Sporting side desperately trying to reverse their late-season slide and start a postseason revival. Sporting manager Peter Vermes instructed his players to drop off from their usual high-pressure tactics and sit inside their own half to conserve their energy.
New York took the opening quarter of an hour to respond accordingly, but it produced chances with its total dominion over the ball and relied on Thierry Henry to create in the channel between Collin and Kevin Ellis.
Opportunities soon followed as the home side increased its tempo, but the Red Bulls somehow squandered all of them. Tim Cahill blazed over from six yards before Wright-Phillips wasted the sort of chance he usually buries. Dax McCarty sent his difficult header wide of an open goal after Kronberg failed to adequately punch a Henry free kick out of danger.
The nagging sense of dread created by miss after miss eventually roosted with Dwyer’s opener shortly after halftime. Feilhaber created the opportunity by catching Eric Alexander in possession and storming forward into the attacking third. His clever pass slotted Dwyer through the line to tuck home the opener.
New York responded well to conceding the opener, but the decision to chuck Luyindula and Oyongo into the fray played a critical role in transforming the pressure into the goals required to turn around the match. Luyindula operated freely in midfield after replacing Alexander, while Oyongo permitted the Red Bulls to stretch the field horizontally on both sides to pull apart the dogged Sporting shape.
Those efforts ultimately reaped their rewards in the final quarter of an hour. Luyindula collected a McCarty pass through the midfield and turned deftly on the edge of the area. He then played a deft ball into Henry’s clever run behind Ellis. Henry pulled the ball back to prompt Wright-Phillips’ poke inside the far post to draw level.
Wright-Phillips completed the comeback by reading Oyongo’s parabolic cross and reacting before the mesmerized Sporting defense to head home the winner inside the far post. The late contribution ended the Red Bulls’ postseason nightmare on home soil and kept their season alive for at least two more matches.