By DAN KARELL
On a night when the New York Red Bulls offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders, it turned out it wasn’t required after all.
An own goal in the second half by FC Dallas was all the Red Bulls needed to secure a 1-0 victory, extending their lead atop the Eastern Conference standings to three points. The win did come at a cost for the Red Bulls, as Bradley Wright-Phillips went off early with a hamstring injury and a number of others picked up knocks over the course of the match.
“I’m very proud of the team,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said following the match. “This is a game perhaps that we (would) lose the last couple of years and time and again this year we’re showing that these guys have heart. We were energetic, we put them under pressure, and I was happy with the way we played.”
Tim Cahill made a faster-than-anticipated return from injury to start the match for the hosts, but even his presence wasn’t enough to galvanize the team’s goal scoring, as the Red Bulls recorded no shots on target in the first half. They would only record one shot on goal in for the match.
FC Dallas put out another workmanlike effort in the center of the park, while the speedy wingers of Jackson on the right and Fabian Castillo on the left caused the home side problems throughout. The Red Bulls though did enough to contain the speed along the flanks while Blas Perez couldn’t find the target except on one early occasion.
“I thought we put a lot into (the game),” FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman said. “It was really a game that both teams seem to dominate midfield play and there just wasn’t a lot of good scoring chances for either team.”
Midway through the second half, the match seemed destined for a 0-0 draw, but a stroke of good fortune benefited the hosts. In the 76th minute, a cross from Red Bulls winger Johnny Steele was sent across the box and turned into his own goal by FC Dallas midfielder Erick, giving the hosts the surprising one goal lead.
It was a nothing ball,” Hyndman said. “Jair (Benitez) lost it on the left side, they countered with a ball to Steele and I don’t think he looked. He just hit it across and I think we had probably three guys on a straight line that could’ve taken it, except for the guy that did in the middle and he put it right in.”
Though they brought in former Red Bull forward Kenny Cooper and playmaking midfielder Michel in the final 15 minutes, the Red Bulls defense held tight and helped goalkeeper Luis Robles earn another clean sheet, his 10th of the season. The final whistle confirmed a second consecutive defeat for FC Dallas via an own goal.
The victory puts the Red Bulls not only in first place in the Eastern Conference with 51 points from 30 games, but also the top spot in the Supporters Shield race, holding a one point lead over the Seattle Sounders, who they play in another mouthwatering matchup next Sunday evening.
“It’s going to be a fun one,” Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty said. “I’ll probably be singing a different tune when we’ve got 40 or 50,000 people barking against us in Seattle, and it should be a great atmosphere. What they’re doing up there is really impressive. They’ve got a pretty damn good team.
“It’s going to be a huge game. I think if we can get a result up there, a win, but even a draw, I think we have to consider that a positive.”