SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It wasn’t a masterpiece or a fireworks display, but Hans Backe feels the Red Bulls’ 1-0 defeat of the Earthquakes on Saturday night in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals was probably New York’s best road game of the season.
“I think we played really well,” the Red Bulls head coach said. “It’s a great, great win, but it’s only the first half. But I think we can play [as] composed as today, I think we’ll be hard to beat.”
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After the first 45 minutes, it could have been anyone’s game. Both teams showed they weren’t afraid to push forward, and that resulted in near-goals for both teams that could have made the halftime score 2-2. Mehdi Ballouchy and Joel Lindpere both came close to scoring for New York, while Geovanni had two opportunities for San Jose.
But as the game progressed, the Quakes began to play into Backe’s hands. Despite some early shakiness, New York’s back four gained confidence as the night progressed.
[inline_node:322235]“We said we have to try to stretch them high, force them as much as possible to long passes and don’t give them time and space,” Backe said.
“I know with Geovanni, if you give him time and space, he’s the one with the final pass that will kill you. [Bobby] Convey, the same. And [our] work ethic was great today, the pressing game from the whole team. That’s the key for the defense.”
The second half was all New York in possession, as the Red Bulls began to create more chances and started taking momentum forward. It was that tenacity that allowed Lindpere to jump on a missed clearance in the 55th minute and fire it low past a diving Jon Busch.
And that was all RBNY needed. They’ve played better all year long after scoring first – their 14-0-1 record in the regular season when getting the opening goal was tops in the league. And Lindpere’s goal seemed to relax the team into playing some looser soccer, but without retreating into a defensive shell.
“It was a big goal,” said New York center back Carlos Mendes. “They came out flying and they were pretty direct and threw a lot at us. We kind of weathered the storm and settled the game.”
New York now head home with a crucial one-goal advantage for next Thursday’s second leg. But if you think Backe is content to play for a mere result at Red Bull Arena, where his team was tied for second-best home record in MLS this season, he’s got news for you.
“We have to go for the win,” the Swede said, adding that he’s had too many tournament experiences in Europe where his team got a result in the road leg, only to “look like statues” in the return leg before it was too late.
“We have to forget this game and say, ‘OK, we’re at home, we have to go for a win,’” said Backe. “Don’t even think about sitting back and [taking a] break. We’re strong enough to try to dictate the game at home.”
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