New York Red Bulls clinched the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference title last night with a 2-0 victory over New England Revolution at the Red Bull Arena.
The win, thanks to goals from Dane Richards (pictured above) and Joel Lindpere, ensures that the Red Bulls will play their Eastern Conference final at home and represents a stark contrast to their form of last season, which delighted coach Hans Backe.
"It's phenomenal," said Backe, who was hired as the Red Bulls coach after a disappointing campaign in 2009. "Normally, we don't see any team in the world double its points from one year to the next. It's just impossible."
"This year, we had a winning mentality." -Carlos Mendes
Despite being without the services of striker Thierry Henry, who missed his second straight game due to a right knee injury, the Red Bulls improved to 15-9-6 this season, up from a 5-19-6 record last year.
"The mentality was different then," defender Carlos Mendes explained. "This year, we had a winning mentality. We made up our minds. Now we're starting from scratch."
The Red Bulls 10-win improvement also equaled the all-time MLS record held by the Metro Stars (the team’s previous name) for the largest single-season increase in victories.
The Red Bulls will face either San Jose, Colorado, or Seattle next week in the playoff, for which Henry could be in line for a return as he is due to resume training on Monday, according to Backe.
On the evidence of their 17th-minute opening goal against New England, the Red Bulls look well-set even without the Frenchman as Richards weighed in with a spectacular effort.
Colombian international Juan Pablo Angel released Richards with a well-judged pass down the right flank, where the Jamaican forward took a couple of touches before firing his fifth goal of the season convincingly past Bobby Shuttleworth in the New England goal.
Richards was also involved in a move that almost saw the Red Bulls double their tally at the half-hour mark when he set up Salou Ibrahim with a ball across the penalty area that the Ghanaian sent narrowly wide.
The visitors improved after the half time interval and Revs striker Ilija Stolica almost capitalized on a scramble in the hosts' six-yard box, but Bouna Coundoul was able to keep the ball out.
Marko Perovic could also have equalized for the Revs but missed from close range; they were made to pay for their profligacy by Red Bulls Estonian international Lindpere, who beat the offside trap to score the winner in stoppage time.