The New York Red Bulls desperately needed a win on Saturday night and responded to that pressure with one of their better performances in recent memory.
The Portland Timbers also came into the match needing a result, but played a flat first half and saw a questionable penalty call and red card effectively end their chances of coming away from Red Bull Arena with a result.
Playing without the suspended Rafa Marquez, the Red Bulls shut down the dangerous Portland attack, and road goals from Dane Richards and Luke Rodgers to a 2-0 victory at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night.
The Red Bulls dominated play in the first half and broke through in the 21st minute when Richards raced in from the left wing and beat Troy Perkins to his far post from a tight angle to make the score 1-0.
The Red Bulls couldn't do more with its dominant first half though, and nearly gave up an equalizer early in the second half when Khalif Alhassan and Kenny Cooper hit consecutive shots off the woodwork.
The game turned dramatically on a controversial call in the 64th minute, when a deflected shot hit Alhassan on the Timbers goal line, Referee Alex Prus ruled the play a handball and issued Alhassan a red card. Replays showed the shot hit Alhassan in the chest, not the arm, though replays also showed a handball by Timbers forward Kenny Cooper just before the Alhassan contact.
Rodgers converted the penalty kick to make the score 2-0. Portland never really mounted much of a challenge after that.
The night was a good one for the Red Bulls defense, which played very well without Marquez, who was suspended after calling out teammates for not being good enough. The shutout was the second in three matches and fourth since July for the New York defense when playing without Marquez.
Richards was the star of the show for New York, torching the Portland flanks all night. Portland struggled to cope with Richards as Eric Alexander had a hard time dealing with his defensive responsibilities. Timbers head coach John Spencer replaced Alexander with Zizzo at halftime and the change helped Portland enjoy a good start to the second half, before the penalty and red card.
The victory helped the Red Bulls jump past the Timbers in the MLS playoff standings, two points ahead of Portland for the 10th and final playoff berth.
The Red Bulls return to action on Saturday with a trip to Canada to take on Toronto FC. Portland returns to action on Oct. 2 with a visit to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
What did you think of the match? Impressed with the Red Bulls? Disappointed with the red card? Think the Timbers can rebound and still make the playoffs?
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