COMMENTARY | The July 27 New York Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake contest was hardly the greatest soccer match ever played. It was a game plagued by multiple referee miscues, chippy and even ugly play, and the type of mistakes that make coaches cringe upon reviewing the match the following day. Neither side was at its best for what was advertised as a showdown of two true title contenders.
It was essentially the perfect Major League Soccer match.
NY Red Bulls 4-3 Real Salt Lake: The ref
The show-stealer of the night was referee Silviu Petrescu, who, for my money, blew every significant call he had to make. His first error came in the fourth minute, when he showed Yordany Alvarez a yellow despite the fact that the RSL man left his feet and nailed Tim Cahill with a studs-up challenge that was worthy of a red card in any professional league. New York were fortunate that their star designated player was able to not just continue but play a major part in the victory, as Alvarez's tackle could have resulted in a serious, if not career-threatening, injury.
Then there were the three penalties, none of which should have been awarded. The first, an incident involving Abdoulie Mansally and Brandon Barklage, arose from two opposing players fighting for position inside the penalty area in a way that occurs during just about set piece. Replays seemed to indicate that Salt Lake's Olmes Garcia dove to buy his side a PK just minutes before the halftime whistle. While there was definite contact when Fabian Espindola hit the floor two minutes from time, the New York man went to ground far too easily and far too quickly for my liking.
I'm a big fan of the "refs don't win and/or lose games" mantra. Petrescu didn't hand New York the victory on Saturday in that he was an equal opportunity offender. His performance was a massive example of why MLS refs have the reputation they have.
NY Red Bulls 4-3 Real Salt Lake: The game changed...
when Thierry Henry took a brief moment to admire his work. The living legend utilized his on-the-ball skill to break past the Salt Lake back line and present himself with a one-on-one opportunity against goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. As he has done so many times in his storied career, Henry hit a far-post strike with the outside of his right boot, and he then shifted his weight toward the corner flag as he watched the ball bounce past Attinella. The attempt hit the post instead of the back of the net, however, and Henry was a step out of position and thus failed in burying a rebound that should have put New York up 3-0.
Instead of being a goal that would have killed off the game before halftime, that moment presented new life to what is, when at full strength, the best team in the league. Had New York not saved themselves at the death, those few seconds could have defined their season. Simply stated, this team is not nearly good enough to take their eye off the ball; literally and metaphorically.
NY Red Bulls 4-3 Real Salt Lake: MOTM
Nine times out of ten, the hat-trick netted by Alvaro Saborio earns the player's team three points. Granted, his second goal of the night was gifted to him by some shambolic defending, a fortunate deflection that accidentally played him through free and clear inside the box, and New York goalkeeper Luis Robles whiffing when he absolutely should have hit the ball free of danger. Saborio deserves all the credit for his third tally of the night, a floating finish that could see him pick up Goal of the Week honors.
Saborio is a player who sometimes gets lost in the shuffle because of where he plays. He'd probably be a star if he featured for either LA Galaxy or New York. When in-form as he was in the second half of Saturday's match, he is as cool a finisher as is any in all of MLS.
NY Red Bulls 4-3 Real Salt Lake: The winner
There is so much to love about the game-winning goal that you could write an essay on just that one play. Roughly five minutes after Espindola buried his second controversial penalty of the evening, Brandon Barklage, who has had a roller coaster up-and-down campaign, found himself with possession and space on the right wing. Barklage played a hopeful ball into the box, and Dax McCarty, one of the smallest players on the pitch (though not as diminutive as is Joao Plata), raced toward the center of the box and flung his body forward and in between two defenders in order to head the ball across the line for one of the most dramatic goals in Red Bull Arena history.
A game for the ages that showcased the previously mentioned Henry and Tim Cahill was won by a duo of players that casual sports fans probably wouldn't recognize if seated at the same table at a pub. Barklage, a right back who has struggled to win over head coach Mike Petke, and a defensive midfielder who can't buy his way into his national team despite deserving a spot for at least a year, created a highlight reel goal that will be replayed in RBNY pre-game montages long after both move on from the franchise.
NY Red Bulls 4-3 Real Salt Lake: In the end...
this game matters little in the grand scheme of things. Salt Lake were without a handful of starters due to the Gold Cup Final, injuries and suspensions, and the Red Bulls have been very difficult to beat at home, something that has proven to be frustrating for fans in that New York have been nothing short of terrible on the road since June. The hope for New York and the team's fan base is that the Red Bulls will take everything, the good and the bad, from Saturday evening's affair and use the game as a launching point for a run that will end with team captain Henry hoisting the MLS Cup in December. Regardless of what happens this coming fall, July 27 will remain fresh in the memories of everybody who watched what will likely go down as the game of the season.
And some say soccer is boring.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
- Sports & Recreation
- NY Red Bulls
- Real Salt Lake
- Major League Soccer
- Brandon Barklage
- Thierry Henry