Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
HARRISON, N.J.– Dax McCarty decided it was his turn to play the hero.
With the New York Red Bulls tied with Real Salt Lake at 3-3 in 90th minute stoppage time, McCarty scored the game-winning goal with a diving header, sending the crowd of 18,604 at Red Bull Arena into ecstasy as the Red Bulls defeated RSL, 4-3, on Saturday night.
It’s the second straight loss for RSL in the dying moments of the match.
“I saw Eric Alexander sitting [back] a little bit, when the ball was getting worked out wide, and I thought I’ll give it a go,” McCarty said following the match. “It was a great ball by Brandon (Barklage), and I figured I’d channel my inner Tim Cahill and luckily you get good contact, close your eyes, and good things happen.”
The Red Bulls immediately went at the makeshift RSL starting lineup that was missing three players due to international duty and one to suspension. After Fabian Espindola drew a foul from 25-yards out, Thierry Henry stepped up with an excellently weighted ball in the 11th minute that found the head of Tim Cahill for the game’s opening goal.
It was Cahill’s sixth goal of the season and his second in three matches, but even more amazingly, it came after he took a studs up tackle to the knee in the fourth minute of the match, gutting through the game despite feeling pain.
“Honestly I don’t even know how I got up (from the tackle). Adrenaline rushes through your body, it’s such a big game, so much importance on it, and it happens,” Cahill said. “You always want to be competing against the best teams, and they are one of the best.”
Twelve minutes later, the home side doubled the lead. Red Bulls defender Brandon Backlage was pulled down inside the box, leading to a penalty kick in the 23rd minute. Espindola stepped up and sent a cheeky chip straight down the middle, fooling RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella in the process.
Exuding confidence, the Red Bulls nearly scored a third on two occasions from Henry and Espindola, but a lapse in concentration by defender Markus Holgersson allowed RSL forward Olmes Garcia some space in the box and ended with an RSL penalty kick in the 45th minute. RSL’s Alvaro Saborio, back from international duty in the Gold Cup, scored his fifth goal of the season from the spot to cut the deficit in half.
In the second half, emotions began to boil over due to a number of fouls in quick succession by both sides, taking the rhythm out of the match. Garcia and Steele were both shown yellow cards, with Garcia’s resulting in a big confrontation near midfield that luckily didn’t get out of hand.
“The last thing you want is somebody to get ejected,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said. “I think there was a lot of fouls today. You have to adapt to that type of game, and you have to expect (the referee) is going to start throwing cards out.
“I like a physical game, and it worked in our favor tonight.”
RSL head coach Jason Kreis made two key substitutions that fully impacted the match, bringing on Luis Gil and Joao Plata to try and tie the match. Instead, the duo led to more than just that.
Gil was the catalyst for a goal scored in the 80th minute, weaving his way through the Red Bulls defense before playing a ball towards the middle. The ball took a hard bounce off Holgersson straight to Garcia in the box, who fed Saborio for the game-tying goal.
Three minutes later, Plata stormed down the left wing, finding Saborio in the box who curled in a deft strike with the outside of his boot to give the visitors a shocking lead. Not only did the goal give Saborio his third-ever MLS hat-trick, it also completed RSL’s comeback from the two-goal deficit.
“It’s truly important to get him back and also scoring goals,” Kreis said. “You know he was critical for us and he played a very good match.”
However, the Red Bulls refused to be denied a victory. Espindola earned a second Red Bulls penalty kick in the 88th minute, and one minute later, he scored to tie the match yet again.
With five minutes of extra time and fresh legs on the field in substitutes Peguy Luyindula, Lloyd Sam, and Marius Obekop, the Red Bulls pressed for their winner. On a curled ball from Backlage in 90th minute stoppage time, McCarty sent a diving header goal wards, one that Attinella wasn’t able to stop, setting the crowd alight and giving the Red Bulls the three points on a wild night.
“This result can do a lot for a team, this can define a season,” McCarty said. “With this resilience, this character we have, we know that against the best team in the league we came back from a goal down with seven, eight minutes to play.
“It’s a result that can kind of galvanize you, and it’s a result that can push you forward and make you really realize that we can do special things this year.”
Here are the match highlights: