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Leg 1
11/23 FINAL
1LA
0SEA
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Leg 2
11/30 9:00pm
SEA
LA
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Western Conference Championship
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Leg 1
11/23 FINAL
1NY
2NE
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11/29 3:00pm
NE
NY
NBCSN
Eastern Conference Championship

Red Bulls foiled in quest to clinch Eastern title

When
Columbus tied Toronto FC earlier on Saturday afternoon, the Red Bulls knew
that all they needed was a win against Philadelphia to lock down the Eastern
Conference title. However, instead of coming out with wings, the Red Bulls looked flat and
gave up two first-half goals en route to a 2-1 road loss to the Union.

With
the result, the Red Bulls now hold a tenuous one-point lead on first place in
the conference in the battle for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs
with just Thursday’s match remaining on their regular-season schedule.

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The
Red Bulls had no offensive flow and no rhythm at all to their attack in the
opening 45 minutes, failing to register a shot on goal during the first half. New
York’s offense had struggled coming into the match, having scored just once –
and that against the run of play – in their last two outings. 

Even with the return of Dane Richards on the
right wing following international duty, the Red Bulls were unable to exploit a
player who had scored four goals in his past five games heading into Saturday’s match at PPL Park.

“We
were kind of playing in Philadelphia’s end too much,” assistant coach Richie Williams told MLSsoccer.com. “We weren’t dangerous at
all. Our passing was
short passing, it was all safe. We never put them under pressure much.”

The
4-4-1-1 formation employed by head coach Hans Backe with some effect in
September had little jolt against Philadelphia. Mehdi Ballouchy, who played the
free-roaming role behind striker Juan Pablo Angel in the first half, failed to make an impact.

When the Moroccan playmaker dropped deep into the midfield to
retrieve the ball, Ballouchy would leave Ángel alone up top and stranded
without a strike partner. And when he
stayed up top, the midfield seemingly lacked someone who had composure on the
ball in the face of strong, high pressure from the Union.

It
wasn’t until the halftime insertion of forward Salou Ibrahim that
the Red Bulls became a threat in attack. With Ballouchy dropping into the
midfield, Ángel had a partner to play off and the Ghana-born Belgian's presence took away some of the pressure. Williams credits the
4-4-2 alignment with a better, more dynamic flow to the game.

New
York began to register shots on goal and good scoring chances, including a
late-match chance on a corner kick as Juan Agudelo’s header was cleared off the
line.

“We
were able to play more direct in the second half,” Williams said. “I think
[Ibrahim] played well. He held the ball well; he was a big physical presence. Even when
he didn’t have the ball he occupied their center backs.”

With
a win on Thursday night against New England, the Red Bulls would clinch their
first Eastern Conference title since 2000.

“No
game is easy in this league but we play at home now,” Williams said. “We’re
confident we can go out there and win the Eastern Conference in this our last
game.”

Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012


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