Depending on the outcome of the second leg between New York and L.A. on Thursday night, Rafa Marquez may have played his last MLS game of 2011.
The New York Red Bulls had their last home match of the 2011 season against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the first of a home-and-away playoff series with the winner advancing to the Western Conference Final.
New York controlled possession, took more shots, won more corner kicks, and had better passing accuracy than the Galaxy, but ultimately lost the match 1-0 in typical Red Bull fashion, falling victim to a Galaxy goal coming off of a set piece. Replays showed Robbie Keane clearly offside and debatably involved in the play as he moved toward goal. However it was former New York player Mike Magee who took advantage of five Red Bulls defenders raising their hands asking for an offsides call and volleyed a shot past New York goalkeeper Frank Rost.
Just before half-time, a carelessly attempted header from Dane Richards back to Rost was intercepted by Robbie Keane, but Rost came off his line quickly and pressured Keane into squandering the opportunity. The Galaxy almost made it 2-0 again when in the 55th minute Todd Dunivant sent an ambitious long ball to a wide open Landon Donovan, who was left unmarked as Tim Ream slipped and fell down. Rost came up big once again, deflecting the shot wide, and L.A. would not have another good attempt on goal for the rest of the match.
New York had countless opportunities that tended to end with a shot off target or one pass or touch too many. Thierry Henry had a fancy bicycle kick attempt, Carlos Mendes put a headed corner kick just over the post, and Joel Lindpere had a great one-timed shot off a Dane Richards cross that Josh Saunders made a fantastic reaction save on.
The Red Bulls continued to control possession and attack late into the match but manager Hans Backe did not sacrifice any defensive cover in an attempt to draw level. Backe's lone change in the match involved moving Dane Richards up top and bringing in Mehdi Ballouchy for Luke Rodgers. Rafa Marquez came inches from equalizing in stoppage time with a shot from just outside the eighteen yard box, and that about did it for New York until the final whistle. Rafa Marquez caught Saunders' goal kick after the match ended, and seemed to dislike Donovan's reaction flinging the ball at him from a medium-distance. The ball bounced off Donovan's leg, and after a short skirmish at midfield, red cards were issued to Rafa Marquez and Juninho who will both miss the second leg in Los Angeles. While the suspensions are not reviewable by MLS except under the condition of mistaken identity, nothing prevents the league from doling out additional punishments after further review, an unlikely step at this point however.
There was a great turnout and atmosphere at Red Bull Arena, and the field conditions wound up not playing too large a factor in the match outside of Ream falling down on Donovan's attempt-on-goal. Landon Donovan went out of his way in his post-game comments to call out the Red Bulls for cheap and dirty play throughout the season, only adding to the great anticipation for the Thursday night rematch that will decide who advances to the conference final.