Few games follow the sort of clear arc Saturday night's match-up against Real Salt Lake did.
Aside from the halftime break, soccer is fluid. Without a lot of scoring, momentum shifts are more subtle than basketball or hockey, and certainly more subtle than baseball or football. The clock doesn't stop. There are precious few legitimate breaks in play.
But Saturday night at Red Bull Arena seven goals were scored in such an order by each of the teams that a very distinct story line formed. In 90 some odd minutes Red Bulls fans went from elated to heartbroken to elated. RSL fans, I imagine, had a similar, but opposite, set of feelings.
Few MLS games a year go to the ridiculous places this one went. So let's look at it, piece by piece.
Act I: The Ecstasy of the Early Lead
Tim Cahill didn't have a great start to the game. After getting hit with the "worst tackle of (his) life," Cahill was in some pretty rough shape. He came off briefly, but hard tackles couldn't keep him down. In the 11th minute, Thierry Henry floated a free kick over the top, and Cahill headed it home to put the Red Bulls up.
The, Red Bulls would double their lead 11 minutes later, when Brandon Barklage would (rather weakly) be pulled down in the box. Referee Silviu Petrescu would point to the spot, and former RSL man Fabian Espindola would put the Red Bulls up 2-0.
From here, things started going downhill for the Red Bulls...
Act II: Saborio Takes Over
As the first half wound down, Markus Holgersson (allegedly) pulled Olmes Garcia down in the box. Petrescu again pointed to the box. Alvaro Saborio, fresh off a Gold Cup stint with Costa Rica, slid it past Luis Robles to cut the Red Bulls' lead in half.
It would stay 2-1 for 35 minutes, in which space Jason Kreis brought on Luis Gil in the 70th minute and Joao Plata in the 77th.
And it only took Gil 10 minutes before he'd punish the Red Bulls. Gil would pick off a Cahill pass and shoot up the wing, where a deflected pass would make its way to the feet of Saborio. Again.
The Red Bulls have coughed up their lead. Three points is now a single point. The middling continues. Fans mumble "That's so Metro" under their breaths.
Two minutes later bad goes to worse, and it'd be Kreis' other sub, Plata, that set it up and Saborio who finished.
Act III: And Everything Goes Craazy
Then...the game takes a turn for the ridiculous.
Seven minutes after Saborio put the finishing touches on his hat trick, and after the RSL comeback forced Mike Petke's hand in bringing Peguy Luyindula and Lloyd Sam on, Fabian Espindola was pushed to the ground in the box. For the third time that night, Petrescu pointed to the game. Espindola proceeded to punish his former team for the second time that game.
Then, a few minutes later, with Petrescu periodically glancing at his watch and Marius Obekop on for Espindola, Brandon Barklage swings in a cross. Dax McCarty, sprinting down from the top of the box, gets his head on the end of it. Putting the Red Bulls up for the first time since before halftime.
A few minutes later the whistle blew. And I needed a cigarette...