HARRISON, N.J. (AP) – The New York Red Bulls took advantage of an own goal in the eighth minute to beat the Philadelphia Union 1-0 Thursday night, clinching an MLS playoff spot.
After a rocky middle of the season, the Red Bulls (10-8-16) won their most important game of the season — even without leading scorer Thierry Henry — to pull into a tie with Houston for the ninth seed of 10 playoff spots.
Depending on what the Dynamo does in its game against Los Angeles on Sunday, the Red Bulls will have a single-elimination wildcard play-in game on the road either Wednesday or Thursday against the seventh or eighth seed.
“It was just determination,” Tim Ream said after his defensive teammates fell into a shell that did not allow the Union a single shot on goal in the second half. “I was juiced from the beginning. I didn’t care how we did it.”
The Red Bulls went into the game in danger of missing the playoffs entirely had they lost or tied. The defensive-minded Union stopped all but one of New York’s 11 shots. And the one that did get past goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon went in off his own back in the eighth minute.
With Henry sitting out due to a red card in Saturday’s loss to Sporting KC, Dan Richards moved up to forward and headed a cross from Teemu Tainio off the left post. The rebound caromed off a diving Mondragon’s back and in for the only score of the match.
Richards, not known for his heading skills, was just happy he got the ball in position.
“I just wanted to put the ball on target,” Richards said. “Philadelphia’s a really good team defensively, so getting that goal early was really important.”
Philadelphia (11-8-15) remained in second place in the Eastern Conference, with 48 points. Though assured of a playoff spot, the Union could finish as low as fourth in the East and eighth in the playoff seedings depending on the weekend’s games.
“We’ll figure it out,” Union coach Peter Nowak said. “We’ll see what happens after the weekend and see where we go. We’ll see what kind of mistakes we made and correct them quickly.”
The Red Bulls controlled the play in the first half, and had chances to extend the lead but Mondragon made a leg save against Richards and stopped a point-blank shot by Luke Rodgers late in the half.
New York went into a defensive shell in the second half, the back line marking the Union’s forwards tightly. Philadelphia failed to mount a serious threat after that.
(Copyright 2011 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.)