For the third straight year, the New York Red Bulls failed to live up to their title aspirations.
New York's 1-0 loss to D.C. United was particularly difficult for Hans Backe's side as it dominated much of the possession and out-shot its opponents 18-8. After the defeat, the disappointment was apparent as the Red Bulls locker room resembled a funeral home.
Kenny Cooper was sobbing over his missed penalty retake, his first successful attempt being nullified due to encroachment. With Sporting Kansas City and San Jose knocked out of the playoffs, Red Bull Arena would have hosted the MLS Cup final if New York advanced through the Eastern Conference. There was a sentiment that the team's best opportunity was lost.
"This was a game that we deserved to win," said a somber Thierry Henry. "Only one team is going to be happy [at the end of season]. We will be a team that obviously didn't win.
"It's kind of weird because we had a good game today. Going out the way we did was cruel."
There will be questions over the future of the Red Bulls after yet another early playoff exit from the squad. Head coach Hans Backe is already receiving some criticism for opting to go with two defenders as his substitutions as opposed to attackers after the Red Bulls went down 1-0 in 87th minute. With his current contract with the team set to expire at the end of this season, it is believed that the Red Bulls are already seeking his replacement.
While none of New York's players stated that they would like to see the 60-year-old Swedish coach return, many defended his record over the past three years in New York. Henry praised the under-fire coach even though he admits that he doesn't know if the coach will back next season.
"It's not over yet [Backe's time in New York] . . . I think he's done brilliantly [during his time here]. During his first year, we finished champions of the Eastern Conference in the regular season," Henry said. "I thought he did well. Obviously, we didn't go all of the way but after that, it's out of my hands. I don't know. I would like to think that he did well."
Henry's teammate Joel Lindpere was clearly frustrated by New York's ineptitude in the postseason.
"I can't believe it, the opponent had one chance and they used it so, changes need to be done on this," he said. "It's normal with the Red Bulls, there are changes all of the time. I've been here for three years, playing f--king in every game and I haven't won nothing. "
Lindpere hinted that it might time for the Red Bulls to rebuild.
"I don't know, we may have too much experience of losing in playoff games," Lindpere said. "It may be time to be at the bottom of the league and play again and go fresh. Win with some luck."
Henry, however, believes that the key for New York to finally hoist the MLS Cup is consistency. He pointed out that the team needs to be able to build on the regular season.
"We need more consistency during the season. When we enter the playoffs, we need to have built from the [positive things] of the regular season," said Henry.
With several major changes expected from the team's new hierarchy, it will be interesting to see if the team can gain any cohesiveness to deliver the club's first title in 17 years.
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