By DAN KARELL
Trailing by a goal with likely only seconds remaining, New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill stepped up to score a goal in dramatic fashion.
On a free kick sent in by Johnny Steele in 90th minute stoppage time, Cahill peeled off his marker and sent a looping header in for the game-tying goal, sending the sellout crowd of 25,219 at Red Bull Arena to their feet.The goal gave the Red Bulls a 2-2 draw with the Revolution on Saturday evening and clinched head coach Mike Petke’s squad a place in the 2013 MLS playoffs.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Petke said to reporters following the match. “We showed character again to come back, even though I think too many times we’ve put ourselves in that situation to have to come back.”
Coming off a workmanlike performance last Sunday against the Seattle Sounders, Espindola picked up right where he left off in the 14th minute. Taking advantage of an errant pass from Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell, Espindola dribbled past one defender and scored a rare goal with his right foot to put the Red Bulls ahead.
From that moment on it, the Red Bulls dominated the rest of the half, using a patient attack to open up chances for Thierry Henry and Espindola while Revolution attackers Agudelo, Lee Nguyen, and Diego Fagundez hardly had anywhere to move to receive a pass.
“I thought we were brilliant at times in the first half, but we knew that (the Revolution) were going to have a go, because they needed to win,” Henry said. “I thought in the second half we were a bit more passive and they took their chances.”
In the second half, the Revolution, still batting for a playoff spot as the season winds down, came out with more energy and intensity, and began to cause some problems to the Red Bulls backline.
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles came up huge for the hosts in the 62nd minute, when he stoned Revolution forward Saer Sene from close range to keep a clean sheet. Sene was played through after a wonderful sequence of passes between Nguyen and Agudelo sliced up the Red Bulls defense.
The match took a controversial turn towards the visitors in the 84th minute when Red Bulls defender Jamison Olave was whistled for a handball in the box, though video evidence suggested afterwards that the ball cannoned off his upper torso. Nguyen stepped up to the spot one minute later and scored into the corner, just beyond the reach of a diving Robles.
“I tried to read it, I felt like I read it pretty well, I felt confident, and it just skipped away from me,” Robles said.
One minute later, the Revolution were handed a late blow as substitute Andy Dorman was shown a straight red card for a studs up tackle on Red Bulls winger Eric Alexander. Despite the advantage, it was the Revolution who would take a shock 2-1 lead as we entered stoppage time.
Red Bulls left back David Carney, for possibly the only time all game, played a pass that went straight to an opponent. The 18-year-old Fagundez picked up the mistake and ran through on goal, slotting home to stun and quiet the packed house.
“We knew we were down a man and we were looking for that win,” Fagundez said. “We pressured their backs and then the ball came loose and of course I just went for the one-on-one and finished it.”
With four minutes of stoppage time and some added following the goal, the Red Bulls created two chances to tie the game up in the final moments. Henry turned his defender and sent a low cross across the face of goal that no Red Bull could get on the end of, but with the last play of the match, Cahill wound up being the Red Bulls hero once again with another trademark header finish to the delight of the crowd and his team.
“In the end, the box was so crowded, I asked (Henry) for a block and then I asked Peguy (Luyindula) for a block,” Cahill said following the match As I ran in I backed off my run and the ball fell nicely.”
Added Cahill: “No one touched it, (it) hit the back of the net, and I was buzzing with that.”
The Red Bulls now have a well-timed break after another hard fought match all the way until the end. Petke’s squad have proven all season long that they’ve ground out results with late goals, as they have 18 goals in the 76th minute or later of matches this season.
“I think sometimes you just make your own luck, and the way the guys have been playing for the last six games has been incredible,” Robles said. “If we continue to work like that and improve some of our mistakes, I think we’re gonna be dangerous going into the playoffs.”
Here are the match highlights: