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Week 33: Sporting Kansas City 0-2 New York Red Bulls

Two goals and a record for BWP; three points and a home game to start the playoffs for RBNY: it was a good week for the Red Bulls.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

At the final whistle, on national television, Bradley Wright-Phillips turned his head to the sky and shouted: "F*********K".

Twenty minutes earlier, he had become just the third player in MLS history to score 27 goals in a regular season. And at that moment, this game stopped being about the New York Red Bulls' playoff seeding, their atrocious road form, whether or not they have the ability or desire to put it together and keep it together for a playoff run: those issues will stick with this team, as they have all season. The last 20 minutes of this game, with RBNY leading 2-0, was about BWP and goal #28.

It is possible Sporting Kansas City were still playing during this time, still seeking out a goal to retrieve the situation, maybe force a draw and bring the Eastern Conference play-in game to their home ground. Certainly, there were still blue shirts on the field - we know this, because they got in the way of BWP.

In the 77th minute, a blue-shorted leg intercepted an attempted chip over the top that BWP was ready to chase. In the 78th minute, Tim Cahill got a pass that put him through on goal and thought what everybody else was thinking: "Why doesn't BWP have this ball?" Rather than shoot, he pulled up, drifted wide, and looked for his strike partner.

Suddenly, everything was a chance for BWP. In the 81st minute, Ruben Bover dragged a shot wide - but he could have tried to cross for Wright-Phillips.

Four minutes later, he got his best chance: another Oyongo pass cleared the defense, BWP was onside. He let Matt Besler catch up to him, kept the defender in front of him as a screen, tried to glide wide and scoop the ball over the 'keeper - but Eric Kronberg blocked the shot.

The rebound fell to BWP, but he was boxed in and crossed to...no one: no Red Bull wanted to even have the chance to score if it meant killing the game and ensuring KC would bunker to avoid humiliation. As long as the score was 2-0, the home team would push forward for the one goal needed to put the match back in the balance. And as long as KC was pushing forward, there would be chances on the break.

We were trying so hard to get him that third goal. We were joking beforehand that he was going to break the record. He went out there and scored two very important goals for us, because both goals came against the run of play -Luis Robles (bigapplesoccer.com)

Minute 86: Wright-Phillips gets the ball just inside the area and takes a shot with a very low chance of success. Tim Cahill approves. In the 87th minute, BWP is...offside. Minute 88: Dax McCarty shapes to shoot and fashions an exquisite through ball that cuts the entire defense out - and BWP, who is also duped by the fake.

Minute 90: Roy Miller runs the length of the field, gets into the area, and is dispossessed. Penalty? Not given.

It was the last chance. BWP's record for the 2014 regular season is 27 goals scored. He is the MLS Golden Boot winner; the first Red Bull or MetroStar to win that title. He has a case for MVP (but it won't be made here, and it is almost certainly too late). He is joint-seventh on his club's all-time leading scoring chart, and the only player with more than 20 goals to his name for this team who doesn't also have more than 50 appearances under his belt (this was his 42nd competitive game for RBNY).

And the two goals he scored on this particular night brought RBNY just its third away win in MLS this season, and home advantage for the fourth vs. fifth seed Eastern Conference knockout game which will decide whether the Red Bulls or Sporting Kansas City will play D.C. United for a place in the Eastern Conference playoff final.

Me being me, I'm kind of upset.  -Bradley Wright-Phillips (bigapplesoccer.com)

But at the final whistle, he did not celebrate the win, or the Golden Boot, or the simple fact that he scored two very well-taken goals, neither of which was "on the doorstep" (as one of the multitude of efforts to diminish his achievements likes to suggest is the secret to his success this season).

BWP shouted obscenities at a Midwestern sky, and thought about the one that got away: #28.

In a peculiar way, this thrilling disappointment might be to the benefit of the team.

The players were as diligent and single-minded in the task of trying to get BWP his record-breaking goal as they had been in attempting to subdue their opponent for 70 minutes. It was an uneven effort. The stats show KC had more than 60% of possession, a figure inflated by the fact RBNY spent the last 20 minutes frantically channeling the ball forward, not giving a damn who had it if it wasn't BWP.

Nonetheless, up to the point Wright-Phillips mugged Aurelien Collin, got himself into a scoring position and slotted #27 past Kronberg, the Red Bulls' striker had been largely invisible in the second half. And although he broke free with promising regularity in the first half, his forays into KC's penalty area were merely punctuation for extended periods of possession and attacking opportunity for the home team.

I'm extremely proud of these guys for one fact: they played like a team tonight, and that was our game plan -Mike Petke (bigapplesoccer.com)

The Red Bulls were good at disrupting KC: they made 16 interceptions. But the home team was better: it had 24.

BWP's first goal, in the 15th minute, came about because Kevin Ellis missed an interception, merely helping the pass beat the back line. Eric Alexander's attempted through-ball bobbled and slowed, but did not stop; Wright-Phillips checked his run, took a touch, and passed the ball round the flailing Kronberg.

The teams had traded chances in the opening stages, but it was Luis Robles who had to make the first save: in the 8th minute, when Dom Dwyer got free and forced the 'keeper to palm the ball away one-handed.

Despite considerable pressure, RBNY's ever-changing defense (Eckersley, Sekagya, Olave and Miller were this week's back four) held firm. That early save was the trickiest moment Robles had to face, as his defenders limited KC to just one shot on target. For the most part, the back line worked well to close down the channels, and get some or all of themselves in the way of shooting opportunities: five of Sporting's 11 shots were blocked.

Our team is tired and you can tell -Peter Vermes (sportingkansascity.com)

Credit is due. This KC team, tired and perhaps a little demoralized after a midweek drubbing in Costa Rica, lacked the mobility and guile of the Columbus side that so effortlessly dismantled RBNY in its last match - but a shutout on the road against the defending MLS Cup champs is not to be taken for granted.

The Red Bulls bounced back in this game, and that is to be applauded. The team we have watched fight its way into form over the last two months returned. So too did BWP's form in front of goal. He may have missed out on #28, but his primary role is to break opposing defenses, not records. He'd scored once in his last four games prior to this match - a drought, by his standards this season.

But perhaps the most encouraging performance for RBNY was that of Tim Cahill. You remember him: the Australian who was the team's leading scorer last season when it won something significant for the first time ever. He's saved his best for his national team this year, and had apparently been consigned to a bench role for the foreseeable future.

But with Thierry Henry quite literally cooling his heels for this game, Mike Petke reached for Cahill to fill in as the central attacking midfielder, keeping Peguy Luyindula (who had struggled in his last two appearances) on the bench.

Cahill didn't score, but he showed himself just as capable of playing the role that has almost exclusively fallen to Henry and Luyindula since Petke switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Cahill plays it differently than those particular teammates, but that is not to say he cannot play it well. And his commitment to the team's cause - bizarrely called into question by "sources" who had apparently forgotten he's never allowed a club to come between him and his country - appeared beyond question.

It will be interesting to see whether Petke sticks with Cahill in the same role for the upcoming playoff game against this same opponent. Henry, if fit, generally plays left in the 4-2-3-1, and his on-field relationship with Luyindula has been less effective recently.

The season is officially at win-or-go-home time, and Petke's instincts as a coach are generally conservative. But he is plenty capable of changing his mind: as demonstrated by the shift away from the 4-4-2 and a guaranteed place for Cahill in the midfield. More evidence of the coach's open mind: Connor Lade's appearance off the bench as a time-killing substitute.

Lade was merely a stoppage-time switch to help kill the clock and stall what little momentum KC seemed to be building in the closing minutes. But Petke had other options - Luyindula foremost of all - and has repeatedly shown himself to be a coach who doesn't believe in making substitutions just because he can. Lade had fallen so far out of favor he'd been sent out to Long Island, and he's only back with RBNY because the New York Cosmos got fed up with the Red Bulls treating a loan as a loan and not a trade.

Lade's last major contribution - a goal against Montreal Impact to cap a solid performance in CONCACAF Champions League - seems to have edged him back into Petke's good books. The garbage time appearance was better than nothing, and nothing was largely all Lade was getting out of his coach for the last two years.

I go into every game trying to score goals and trying to help out my team -Bradley Wright-Phillips(bigapplesoccer.com)

The Red Bulls got a lot out of their last game of the season: a team seemingly back on track; a scorer back in form; possibly a happier Australian than previously thought; some evidence the squad can figure out how to play a game of soccer without Henry on the field; and Lade's return from his exile in Nassau County.

Most importantly, perhaps, as so eloquently illustrated by BWP's post-game howl: this team is still unfulfilled.

The last 20 minutes of the regular season were devoted to an all-for-one effort to get BWP to his 28th goal of the year. Wright-Phillips said all the right things after the game, because he is a well-adjusted human being with a sense of perspective. But he allowed himself one moment to curse his luck, because he wanted more.

And his teammates wanted him to have more. Together, we hope, they'll turn that sense of not having done quite enough with the regular season into a satisfying playoff run.