For the second week in a row, the New England Revolution gave up a win.
On Saturday night, they allowed the New York Red Bulls to score an equalizer in second half stoppage time and come away with a 2-2 tie at Red Bull Arena.
A crowd of 25,219-- New York's biggest crowd of the season-- watched as their hometown team clinched its fourth consecutive playoff berth while preventing the visiting Revolution from climbing up the Eastern Conference standings. Meanwhile, wins this weekend by Philadelphia and Chicago keep the Revolution seventh in the conference, three points from the fifth and final playoff spot.
But the Revolution nearly slid into fifth place on Saturday. Second half goals by Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez erased a first half deficit put up by New York's Fabian Espindola. But the Revolution were unable to preserve the victory and their first-ever win at Red Bull Arena as Tim Cahill tied the game in the seventh and final minute of second half stoppage time.
"Right now I think if we had come away with no points this game, I think itís tough to get back together kind of after such an intense game, but we get the point," said Revolution defender Andrew Farrell. "We were up until the last play."
At the start of the game, it looked like the Revolution wanted to defend the Red Bulls and launch chances via counter-attacks. Juan Agudelo returned from a hamstring injury and made his first start since Aug. 30, but had difficulty connecting with fellow forwards Diego Fagundez and Saer Sene.
That tactic became even more ineffective once the Red Bulls took the lead. In the 14th minute, Espindola intercepted a back pass by Scott Caldwell to AJ Soares, cut past a defender, and then fired a low drive past Matt Reis and into the goal for his ninth goal of the season and the lead.
With a deficit to overcome, the Revolution tried a more proactive approach. They played to the forwards' feet and sent the ball to the flanks. Nevertheless, they ended the first half with only two shots on target, both of which were easy saves for New York goalkeeper Luis Robles. New York, however, nearly doubled its lead in the 24th minute as Espindola flicked a cross from Thierry Henry off the post.
Misplaced passes didn't help. Caldwell, usually an engine in the Revolution's midfield, struggled to connect with his teammates. He was also overrun by Espindola and Henry any time he tried to transition possession from defense to offense.
Revolution coach Jay Heaps swapped Caldwell for Andy Dorman in the 56th minute, which provided New England with a fresher, more experienced, passing option.
But the Dorman switch was nearly overshadowed when the Red Bulls almost scored their second goal. In the 57th minute, Henry collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area and curled a shot to the far post that Reis sprawled to his right to parry away.
That save kept the Revolution in the game and allowed them to make the most of the space that Dorman provided on the field. The Revolution's first good chance of the match arrived in the 62nd minute as Fagundez played the ball into the center of the box for Nguyen, who laid it off to Sene. Sene then latched onto the pass and smacked a first-time shot off the fingertips of Robles and over the crossbar.
That sequence rejuvenated the Revolution's offense, which looked slow and listless until that point. Heaps encouraged the offensive momentum by substituting Soares off for Dimitry Imbongo, a forward, in the 76th minute and then swapping Agudelo for Jerry Bengston. But despite those changes and a renewed offense, the Revolution didn't create another scoring chance until their goal in the 86th minute.
First, Sene's cross connected with the shoulder of New York's Jamison Olave in the penalty area, causing referee Fotis Bazakos to award a penalty kick. Then, Nguyen converted from the spot, firing the ball into the lower right corner of the net past a diving Robles, who almost saved the shot.
What ensued was perhaps that most exciting, end-to-end final minutes of an MLS game this season. Moments after Nguyen leveled the score, Dorman was shown a straight red card for a late slide tackle, with studs exposed, on New York's Eric Alexander.
Next, Henry went alone on Reis in the 89th minute, but had his low drive stopped by the New England goalkeeper.
The Revolution made Reis' save count, as they marched down the field and scored the go-ahead goal. Fagundez stripped New York's David Carney of possession in the 90th minute just outside the penalty area, ran in alone on Robles, and then fired a shot into the net for his team-leading 12th goal of the season and the 2-1 lead.
"Well, when we came in here we said that we needed to pressure them," explained Fagundez. "We knew we were down a man and we were looking for that win. We pressured their backs and then the ball loose and of course I just went for the one-on-one and finished it."
With a chance to clinch a playoff berth slipping, the Red Bulls pushed their entire team forward. Four minutes of stoppage time were added to the second half. In the second of those minutes, Henry pushed Revolution defender Andrew Farrell into the foot of Reis in an attempt to reach a cross. Farrell stayed down on the turf, face down, with blood streaming onto his arm and jersey from his nose and a cut below his right eye.
Revolution trainers and medical staff tended to Farrell and escorted him off the field and Bazakos permitted the game to go beyond the four added minutes because of the injury delay. Already competing with one less player because of Dorman's red card, New England braved New York's attacking onslaught without Farrell, too.
In the sixth minute of stoppage time, Farrell returned to the field of play to defend a freekick from just outside the left side of the penalty area that was called due to a handball by Fagundez. Prior to the kick being taken, Bazakos forced Farrell of the field again.
Official rules of soccer say that a player cannot have any blood on his body or uniform while he is on the field of play. Bazakos was citing that rule when he asked Farrell to get off the field for New York's last play.
"He said I had to clean my face, I donít know, I think it was more of a scrape so thereís obviously going to be blood there, but I couldnít see my own face so I donít know what it would look like," said Farrell of Bazakos' decision.
"I feel like weíre down, we had a red card and they send their goalie up so theyíre up two men and then they have to take me off. Three-man advantage on a corner is pretty tough odds to put a team on at the end of a game."
Farrell's presence may have made the difference. That's because when Reis punched away the freekick, no one stepped to cover Cahill, who remained unmarked in the box and floated the rebound into the back of the net with a header to level the score.
The Red Bull Arena crowd erupted in cheers and those on the bench jumped collectively in celebration.
The Revolution had the opposite reaction. Players, coaches, and team staff appeared to protest Bazakos' decision to keep Farrell off the field. Others appeared to question why the game was allowed to carry on for so long.
"I want to watch my words here because I donít like talking about officiating and I wonít, but Iíve never seen a player being asked to leave the field on the last play of the game," stated Heaps. "You give a red card, I can live with it...I can live with the calls of the game. I canít live with you [the referee, Fotis Bazakos] taking our guys off the field on the last play of the game. Go back and look, show me tape on when in the world when youíve already got a red card you take another guy off. Itís impossible."
The result puts New England in a difficult situation with just three games left. They will need no less than a win at Montreal next weekend to keep the pace in the playoff race. They also need Philadelphia and Chicago to be upset in their final games of the season. But with one win and four blown leads in their last six games, the theme of New England's season seems to be throwing points away.
"Weíll have a week when we go to Montreal...I think with this last 45 minutes weíre feeling confident in ourselves that we can play with the best in the league, and even a man down," added Farrell.
"We got to just keep pushing, tweak some stuff here and there...look at the first half and see what we could have done better. I didnít do well, I was a little flustered. But weíll keep going and I think itís good determination from the team."
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