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MLS Playoffs 2013: Red Bulls Run Out of Gas

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The Red Bulls crash out as a goal in extra time sends them packing.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Just like in the first leg, things started off well for the Red Bulls. They just couldn't finish the job.

In the first leg, a 2-0 lead on the road evaporated in the second half. in Wednesday night's second leg, a 23rd minute goal from Bradley Wright-Phillips, who pounced on a ball coughed up by Houston Dynamo 'keeper Tally Hall, put the Red Bulls up 1-0, and 3-2 on aggregate.

It seemed like smooth sailing from there. Just hold the lead. Just like Sunday's game between the two.

But it wasn't meant to be. Ibrahim Sekagya, who seemed to take a knock after nearly pulling off a split to get the ball out of the box, botched a clearance to the feet of Brad Davis, who brought the game level just a few minutes later.

The game would stay level through the 90th minute. In the first extra time period, Omar Cummings beat Red Bulls 'keeper Luis Robles, who scrambled to keep the ball from going over the line.

By that point, both teams were out of gas. The Red Bulls were crashing after an emotional high that carried them to their first ever trophy in the Supporters' Shield, and the Dynamo more tangibly, playing their third game in seven days.

But it was more than just the post-Shield come down. Sekagya was a bit hobbled, as was Tim Cahill, who at one point late in the game labored to get back up field. The rest of the team was jogging after balls, save Peguy Luyindula, an extra time sub, who was chasing down everything.

He was the only sub who was up to snuff, and he didn't even have much time to make a difference. Head Coach Mike Petke pulled Wright-Phillips for Fabian Espindola in the 63rd minute, but Espindola didn't put in a good shift. There were heavy first touches, dribbling into defenders and iffy crosses.

To put it all on Espindola would be unfair, but I've all the ways an attack could die, and I saw them all last night.

To make a long, 120 minute story short, the magic had run out. The "never say die" attitude enshrined in team videos? That couldn't break down a Dynamo team playing 10 men behind the ball (or an aggressive Hall in goal). Petke's clockwork subs didn't wreak havoc on tired legs the way they've done in the past. Henry, who at one point juggled a ball outside the box before launching a shot toward the goal, one that Cahill would deflect toward the corner, was saved, spectacularly, by Hall. In any other game, that's a dagger to the heart of the opposing team.

The team looked shot, not from a lack of conditioning or a lack of desire, but almost as if from their own expectations.

The Red Bulls had high hopes once they got into the playoffs, and once they won the Shield they knew an MLS Cup could be won. But timely saves and, frankly, ugly, physical soccer from the Dynamo were enough to down the Red Bulls.

If there were any justice from the soccer gods, the Red Bulls should have been able to put away that one, late chance that brings things level and forces penalties. But sports are a cruel thing and they don't always work out that way. When the final whistle blew -- somehow without any stoppage time -- the Red Bulls were one goal short of the Conference Finals.

And that's where the 2013 season ended.