For old fans and new fans of the New York Red Bulls, the 2013 season was magical, and cathartic.
For those outside the fanbase: for years, supporters of RBNY have been tortured by their club both on and off the pitch. In 2013, a team helmed by its most loyal servant - Mike Petke - and captained by arguably its best-ever player, Thierry Henry, had roller-coastered through the year to arrive at the last game of the regular season with an unexpected opportunity to clinch a trophy: the Supporters' Shield.
It was the team's first substantial shot a major trophy in five years - and it was only the third time in its (at the time) 18-year history the club had got to within one game of significant silverware (the 2003 US Open Cup final and 2008 MLS Cup final being the other occasions). Parity in MLS is so great, every other of the league's original teams had secured at least one trophy, MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup, or the Supporters Shield, in the 18 seasons from 1996 to 2013. Except, famously, RBNY.
Almost every season it seemed the team would sabotage itself, or just come up short, on the pitch. As for the stuff hurled at Red Bulls fans, I've been on both sides of the coin. I will admit I discovered soccer later than many, and will admit I hurled plenty of insults to the one kid who had the gall to show up to "wear your favorite team's jersey day" in a MetroStars shirt in middle school. And to this day, people sling New Jersey jokes at me, whether or not I am talking about the Red Bulls.
My personal experiences aside, RBNY fans - from those who have stuck with the club since it launched as the MetroStars in 1996 to those attracted by the bright lights of Red Bull Arena and chance to see Henry - had suffered several near and not-so-near misses in years both distant and near. The memory of the ignominious exit from the 2012 playoffs being merely the most recent.
Going into the final game of that 2013 regular season, versus the Chicago Fire, to say a lot was at stake is almost to understate its importance. Eighteen years is a long time to wait for a trophy. Near two decades of torment were channeling into this match; it was difficult to contemplate the consequences of another failure.
And failure was an all-too-possible outcome. The Red Bulls opponent - the Chicago Fire - had a miraculous in-season turnaround after acquiring to-be-MVP (and naturally former MetroStar) Mike Magee. A win or draw against the Red Bulls would push the franchise into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls after 33 matchdays led the race for the Supporters' Shield. That's right, the Red Bulls were the best team in all of MLS during the regular season. The team needed a win to guarantee the trophy, as Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers rudely inserted themselves as viable contenders.
Adding salt to the wound, the worst team in MLS (possibly the worst MLS team of all time, too), and the worst franchise ever to have been created D.C. United managed to take home the U.S. Open Cup. Even when they are the polar opposite of the Red Bulls, somehow they take home a trophy.
Given everything, this was a game to be blown: one to add to the annals of Red Bulls "almost" history.
Enter Peguy Luyindula:
He didn't score in this match. He didn't need to. Heck, even after Mike Magee scored less than 6 minutes into the match, the hero was just waiting to emerge.
3:45 into the video, you see the tension building. The team has been trying to feed Henry up top, and Luyindula shows the calm patience needed to control the ball in the midfield. He has his first crack on goal, but that is not his job today. You'll see. The whole league will see.
5:07: Watch Luyindula has he creates another chance, this time off a cross from Lloyd Sam. He carefully slides himself between two Fire players, and turns to run right as he has baited them to put their backs on goal. Again, he's not going to net one, but he should have.
5:48 It happens. Close to 24 minutes into the game, the Red Bulls can finally breathe a little bit easier. Peguy Luyindula, who continues to have all the space in the world because the Fire just forget about him, lofts a great ball into the chest of Thierry Henry, who does what world class strikers do: finish. Supporters' Shield is back in play.
Throughout the rest of the half, in that video, you can see Luyindula make small plays to keep attacking stretches alive. That was his brilliance. He knew how to control large swaths of the center of the pitch, calmly, and in a way you didn't even know he was doing it. 45 minutes remained and the Red Bulls needed a goal. The Fire were content to sit back and force a draw. The magic is still coming.
The goal that turned the tides in the Red Bulls favor came in the 49th minute. A wild free kick save from Sean Johnson could not be controlled and five Red Bulls swarmed the ball like they were all seven years old. The ball found the way into the net. Luyindula did not factor in this play, but what a play it was.
The Fire, needing a goal to save their season, would start to press. The Red Bulls were ready to take advantage.
12:47: Once again Luyindula has space. Even when he's marked he keeps getting space. A poor clearance leads to another chance, his third, for the Frenchman. No dice.
13:08: Have the Fire not figured anything out? Robles finds a streaking Luyindula on the counter after a corner. Because of the Fire pressing, NO ONE is around him. He runs up field, and for the second time manages a ball into the box that sets up a Red Bull one-on-one right in front of the goal. This time it is Lloyd Sam, and he wasn't going to miss.
18:10: This is where Luyindula cements the game. Once again off a Fire turnover, due to immense pressure from the Red Bulls, Luyindula again finds the ball in space. He slows down, draws two Fire players, who both have their back to the goal, and slides the ball perfectly between them to find Eric Alexander all alone. Alexander is in the box one-on-one with Fire goalie Sean Johnson. 4-1 Red Bulls. Fire season over. Supporters' Shield will be ours in 15 minutes time.
Here is one last gif. Greatness.
19:52: One last goal for the Red Bulls. One last impact from Luyindula. Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry link up on the right side of the pitch. Henry crosses to Johnny Steele. Steele buries it. 5-1 Red Bulls. What most people won't notice is Luyindula in the center of the box. He serves as the dummy, which draws the defenders his way, leaving Steele WIDE open. When he doesn't have space, he's creating space for others. Greatness.
Luyindula wasn't the only top performer this match. Thierry Henry, Dax McCarty, Luis Robles, and Tim Cahill all were arguably in peak form. Those three assists, though. Many forget Luyindula's impact in this game. Once a Metro does not: his best game at the club's finest hour. Thanks, Peguy.
h/t to da gawd Rob Usry for the gifs.