HARRISON, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls booked their place in the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs with a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union at Red Bull Arena on Thursday night in a game they dominated from start to finish.
Dane Richards emerged as the hero for New York as his 7th-minute header — which was originally credited as a Faryd Mondragón own goal and later credited to Richards — won the game for his side and sent them into the postseason.
New York came flying out of the traps in the early stages, with Jan Gunnar Solli bombing on from right back and causing the Union defense all kinds of problems.
The breakthrough the Red Bulls were desperately hoping for came early. Stand-in striker Richards rose highest in the six-yard box but sent his header off a pinpoint Solli cross crashing off the post. The ball then rebounded off Mondragón’s back before trickling over the goal line and into the net.
New York almost made it 2-0 in the 16th minute, when the striking duo of Richards and Luke Rodgers combined to force Mondragón into a fine save. Rodgers played a perfectly weighted pass for Richards, who used his electric pace to get away from the Union defense, but his finish was lacking and Mondragón parried it away for a corner.
The Union barely threatened in a lackluster first half display as New York's Rafa Márquez and Teemu Tainio dominated the midfield.
In the 42nd minute, New York were given the prefect opportunity to double their lead when Stephen Keel’s excellent forward pass found Rodgers. The bullish Englishman flicked a delicate pass to the onrushing Lindepre, but Union captain Mondragón flew off his line to make an excellent sprawling save from the Estonian.
After struggling to get going offensively in the first 45, the Union made two changes at the break. Danny Mwanga and Freddy Adu replaced Amobi Okugo and Zach Pfeffer to try and give Philadelphia renewed impetus going forward.
And just two minutes after coming on, Mwanga signaled the Union's new attacking intent, cutting in from the left flank before unleashing a strike that flew wide of Frank Rost’s left hand post.
However that was to be as good as it got for the Union as they huffed and puffed but hardly threatened Rost’s goal.
Tim Ream and Dax McCarty went close for the Red Bulls before Rodgers left fans and players holding their heads in disbelief midway through the second half. After a goalmouth scramble from a Richards shot, Rodgers reacted first but blazed his shot from six yards out high over the crossbar.
Philadelphia piled on the pressure in the final 30 minutes in search of an equalizer, with the Union’s best effort coming off a Sébastein Le Toux free kick that Carlos Valdés headed home. However, the center back was adjudged to be in an offside position. Union manager Peter Nowak made his final throw of the dice in the 70th minute, bringing on midfield spark Roger Torres.
Yet Philadelphia failed to grab an equalizer as New York held on to record their third straight home shutout win, reaching the playoffs in the process.
The match was the final one of the regular season for both teams. They will now await the weekend results to find out their playoff seeds.
Dane Richards 7 (Jan Gunnar Solli 7, Dax McCarty 6) 8
NY -- Teemu Tainio (caution; Reckless Foul) 29
PHI -- Brian Carroll (caution; Reckless Tackle) 55
NY -- Luke Rodgers (caution; Dissent) 66
Philadelphia Union -- Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan, Amobi Okugo (Freddy Adu 46), Zach Pfeffer (Danny Mwanga 46), Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp (Roger Torres 70), Sebastien Le Toux, Michael Farfan.
Substitutes Not Used: Jack McInerney, Stefani Miglioranzi, Kyle Nakazawa, Zac MacMath.
New York Red Bulls -- Frank Rost, Jan Gunnar Solli, Stephen Keel, Tim Ream, Roy Miller, Dax McCarty, Rafael Marquez, Teemu Tainio, Joel Lindpere, Luke Rodgers (Juan Agudelo 89), Dane Richards.
Substitutes Not Used: Stephane Auvray, Mehdi Ballouchy, Corey Hertzog, Matt Kassel, Carlos Mendes, Bouna Coundoul.
Referee: Mark Geiger
Referee's Assistants: Eric Proctor; Daniel Belleau
4th Official: Drew Fischer
Time of Game: 1:50
Weather: Partly Cloudy and 59 degrees