Heading into Thursday's semifinal finale against the Galaxy, a draw was as good as a loss to the Red Bulls' playoff chances. An actual loss just removed all doubt.
Los Angeles answered an early go-ahead goal by Luke Rodgers with two of their own to eliminate the Red Bulls from the MLS Playoffs with a 2-1 win at the Home Depot Center on Thursday evening. Mike Magee and Landon Donovan provided all of the scoring for the Galaxy as the former headed home an equalizer before halftime while the latter converted a penalty kick in the 75th minute to seal the win for the Supporters Shield winners, who now prepare to kick off at home against Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Final match on Sunday.
Luke Rodgers set the attacking tone for the Red Bulls in the 4th minute by finding himself on the receiving end of a Thierry Henry through ball and catching Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez out of position. Rodgers trotted into the penalty area and casually pushed a right-footed shot past a diving Josh Saunders to give the Red Bulls an early 1-0 lead.
That lead didn't make it to halftime as L.A.'s hero at Red Bull Arena last Sunday, Mike Magee, connected a header in the 42nd minute from a David Beckham corner kick. That makes for two consecutive games in which Magee and Beckham provided all of the Galaxy's scoring, with both goals culminating from plays initiated by free kicks. A second-half foul by Red Bulls fullback Roy Miller sent the home side to the penalty spot, enabling Donovan to collect the game winner with a right-footed shot past Red Bulls shot stopper Frank Rost.
The loss officially ends the 2011 season for the New York Red Bulls. It also leaves them exiting the MLS Playoffs in the same round last season when the San Jose Earthquakes eliminated New York in the second leg of their playoff semifinal home-and-home series.
Play of the Game: Beckham's Bad Bounce. A David Beckham header in the 31st minute of a ball cleared by the Galaxy back line looked innocent enough. Beckham tracked the ball down and connected with it before the shorter Dane Richards could sneak in. The play moved into the Galaxy's attacking third -- but Beckham didn't.
The English midfielder struggled to get to his feet and stayed put when he did, just bending over with his hands on his head before crumpling to the ground. A Galaxy trainer escorted him off the field and provided Beckham with smelling salts before the midfielder would return to the game. It took him a while to get his bearings, but when he did, it finished with Magee putting the ball in the back of the net for an L.A. equalizer.
Whatever sent Beckham to the ground, it wasn't enough to mitigate his impact on the game. The Galaxy's chances hung in the balance, and the club's designated player did not disappoint by helping to ensure L.A. supporters would see their club play once more at home this season.
Four. That's how many shots Galaxy striker Robbie Keane attempted before halftime, which, along with his two shots on target, led all players at the break. Keane had ample opportunities to draw his side level before Magee's equalizer, but found himself frustrated in the penalty area by effective defense by Tim Ream, the goal post, and Red Bulls 'keeper Frank Rost making up for his own mistakes. His efforts ended up not hurting his club's chances, but he gets paid designated player monies to finish the chances he failed to convert on Thursday.
Feeling Foul. New York learned before the match that the MLS Disciplinary Committee extended Rafael Marquez's suspension from one match to three, which would have theoretically eliminated him from the remainder of the Red Bulls' postseason run regardless of Thursday's result.
Rather than practice restraint against a Galaxy side that's disciplined in drawing fouls, the Red Bulls went for broke. Rodgers created early tension by picking up a yellow card mere moments after scoring the match's opening goal, while a second-half yellow for Henry earned the Red Bulls team captain an automatic one-game suspension for accrued cards. Those penalties now carry over to the start of the 2012 MLS Season after Thursday's loss.
Déjà Vu. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, the scoring script wound up one goal and one minute shy of perfectly following their initial encounter against the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in May. Like Rodgers, Henry opened the scoring in that match in the 4th minute. Unlike Magee, Donovan answered the early Red Bulls lead with an game-tying strike in the 41st minute -- just one minute shy of Magee's 42nd-minute equalizer. That result was enough to finish off the Red Bulls, with Donovan's penalty kick merely providing the exclamation point.