Curse? What curse? At the end of a pulsating 5-2 victory for the New York Red Bulls, over playoff chasing Chicago Fire, such dark thoughts were the furthest thing from the minds of 27,000 raucous fans at the Red Bulls Arena. After sixteen years of near misses and close shaves with success, the Red Bulls have finally brought home their first ever silverware – the 2013 Supporters’ Shield.
The prevailing mood in Harrison, New Jersey is that this is not the New York Red Bulls/ MetroStars side of old. This is a full blooded team, all capable and willing to fight for the cause; a team that mirrors head coach, Mike Petke’s playing style. A tough tackling defender that made one hundred and sixty nine appearances for New York, the Long Island born coach has unified a squad of individuals into the highest ranking team in the MLS, in his rookie year.
Going down a goal to Petke’s former Red Bulls teammate, Mike Magee, the New York made hard work of the early exchanges, but fought back to go in level at the break, with a goal of the season contender from Thierry Henry, his tenth strike of the season. The Red Bulls had slightly the better chances of the first half, but were never really allowed to settle, as Chicago closed the game down. With a draw not good enough to take the Supporters’ Shield, Petke undoubtedly let loose the hairdryer at the break, as the Red Bulls emerged in the second half like a team on a mission.
Playing towards a more boisterous than usual South Ward, the Red Bulls went ahead after a Thierry Henry free kick caused mayhem in the Chicago area, four minutes into the half. Ugandan international, Ibrahim Sekagya emerged from the melee, to put the Red Bulls ahead. It was a lead they would surrender, as the league’s form team ran riot. Another surefire goal of the week contender from Lloyd Sam, and further strikes from substitute Eric Alexander, and Irishman Johnny Steele completed the rout, with a consolation goal from Quincy Amarikwa adding a little respectability to the score line for Chicago in the last minute.
Former Paris Saint Germain striker Peguy Luyindula, with an MLS career high three assists, won the Man of the Match award. The Frenchman excelled, particularly in the second half, adapting to his new midfield role, a masterstroke from Petke over the past few games. Dax McCarty, his central midfield companion, doing the dirty work in the engine room, could easily have been nominated as MOTM, with his unselfish running and an 83% pass completion rate throughout the game.
The Red Bulls go into the playoffs, where they will face either Houston or Montreal in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. As a result of winning the Supporters’ Shield, they will also go forward to the CONCACAF Champions League, for the second occasion. As Petke said after the game, “after tonight, it is back to the drawing board”, as they prepare for the next five games, in what has already been a monumental season. Time will tell whether this team has what it takes to win their second piece of silverware on December 7th, but if the Red Bulls can retain the form they have shown as the regular season wound down, talk of curses will be forever banished in Harrison, New Jersey.