HARRISON, N.J. – With great goals from Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere, the Red Bulls clinched the Eastern Conference title for just the second time in franchise history on Thursday night with a hard-fought 2-0 win over New England.
With the win, New York clinched homefield advantage through the Eastern Conference final.
The match lacked plenty in terms of on-the-field beauty, but was a battle in every meaning of the word, including five yellow cards. An effective and somewhat direct New York side looked far more motivated in the match then New England, who will be missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
It was Goal of the Week stuff that gave the Red Bulls the lead in the 17th minute. Winning the ball 30 yards in front of goal, Mehdi Ballouchy made a deft touch pass to Juan Pablo Angel to start a New York counterattack.
Quickly turning on the ball and heading towards the midfield line, Ángel looked up and played a ball into space for Richards on the right flank. The winger streaked onto the ball, took a couple of touches and then fired a laser of a shot over New England goalie Bobby Shuttleworth for the opening score.
For the Jamaican international, it was his fifth goal of the season, all scored over the course of his last seven MLS games.
The home side nearly doubled the lead 12 minutes later. Richards threaded a ball across the box to striker Salou Ibrahim, who timed the pass perfectly but sent his ensuing shot skimming across the grass just a foot wide of the post.
New England mustered little offense in the first half, with a well-taken Sainey Nyassi shot from the right edge of the penalty area the only chance of note. The Revolution had difficulty with the New York midfield and the high pressure being applied on the wings by Richards and Ballouchy, who were active all night long.
In the second half, however, the visitors perked up and showed a better, looser attack.
Just moments after the break, Revs' defender Darrius Barnes launched a deep throw-in that was bobbled by Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul. The ball bounced just yards in front of goal, but Shalrie Joseph was unable to connect with the bouncing ball and Ilija Stolica’s shot crashed into Coundoul's legs.
A few minutes later, in the 52nd, Kenny Mansally attempted a volley from the left side of the six-yard area, but his effort went well wide.
New England continued their onslaught in an attempt to find the equalizer against a New York side that had a much more subdued second 45.
Just 10 minutes from the end, the Revs would have another clear opportunity. Nyassi sent a ball into the right edge of the three-yard box to Joseph, who cut back and rolled a pass to Marko Perovic. The lefty, however, attempted a right-footed shot that went well above the frame.
New York would put the nail in the coffin in added time. Lindpere beat the offside trap and danced around Shuttleworth and a Revs defender to fire into an empty net for his third goal of the season.
The win completed an improbable season for the Red Bulls, who finish atop the Eastern Conference just a season removed from having the worst record in the league.
NY -- Dane Richards 5 (Juan Pablo Angel 4) 17
NY -- Joel Lindpere 3 (Tony Tchani 3) 92+
NE -- Shalrie Joseph (caution; Reckless Tackle) 39
NE -- Jason Griffiths (caution; Reckless Tackle) 65
NE -- Kenny Mansally (caution; Reckless Foul) 71
NY -- Jeremy Hall (caution; Reckless Foul) 74
NY -- Rafael Marquez (caution; Reckless Foul) 87
New England Revolution -- Bobby Shuttleworth, Emmanuel Osei (Pat Phelan 80), Cory Gibbs, Darrius Barnes, Chris Tierney, Sainey Nyassi, Shalrie Joseph, Jason Griffiths, Kenny Mansally, Ilija Stolica (Zack Schilawski 77), Marko Perovic.
Substitutes Not Used: Nico Colaluca, Kheli Dube, Seth Sinovic, Khano Smith, Tim Murray.
New York Red Bulls -- Bouna Coundoul, Jeremy Hall, Carlos Mendes, Tim Ream, Roy Miller, Dane Richards, Mehdi Ballouchy, Rafael Marquez (Tony Tchani 88), Joel Lindpere, Salou Ibrahim, Juan Pablo Angel.
Substitutes Not Used: Juan Agudelo, Chris Albright, Mike Petke, Carl Robinson, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Greg Sutton.
Referee: Michael Kennedy
Referee's Assistants: Adam Wienckowski; Brian Poeschel
4th Official: Jorge Gonzalez
Weather: Partly Cloudy and 57 degrees