The last match of the 2016 regular season for the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union - both looking ahead to playoff soccer before kick-off - could have been played in cruise control. But RBNY wasn't in the mood to take it easy. Jesse Marsch and the Red Bulls came down to Talon Energy Stadium, came out firing on all cylinders, and took it to the home side with a 2-0 victory.
Bradley Wright-Phillips opened the scoring from a wonderful ball by Aurelien Collin. A long pass out of the back sent BWP clear of the defense. When Andre Blake came off his line, RBNY's all-time top scorer chipped the ball over the 'keeper and followed up his own pass to open the scoring in the 26th minute.
The goal would stand up as both the match-winner and the one that secured BWP his second MLS Golden Boot. Twenty-four goals for the season is one better than achieved by David Villa - who scored in second-half stoppage time in NYCFC's final regular season match at Yankee Stadium.
Many thought another MLS milestone had been passed by a Red Bulls player in the 57th minute. Sacha Kljestan contributed to Alex Muyl's second league goal of the season, providing the weighted pass that would land at Muyl's feet for a near-perfect scoring opportunity.
But no assist was credited to Kljestan, who stood to become just the second player in MLS history to reach 20 assists in a single regular season. The pass hit the leg of Richie Marquez, and that deflection was the touch that diverted the ball to Muyl.
Luis Robles made several spectacular saves late in the first half and late in the second half to make sure the Union had no chance to climb back into the match. His heroics preserved the clean sheet and ensured there would be no two-goal-lead-lost story to report from this game.
The habit of letting two-goal leads slip started at Talon Energy Stadium, so it was a fitting end to the season that RBNY was able to return to the scene of that crime and put right what had previously been wrong. The team can now head to the post-season with attention rightly focused more on its 20-game (in all competitions) unbeaten streak than its defensive frailties.
Jesse Marsch saw the positive in his team's performance.
"It's always a fine line between success and failure in different moments and now that we had a two-goal lead I just think we have to make a few more plays, we need to play in their end a little bit more, maybe get a little bit tighter in the back so we don't give much away," said Marsch. "But we still had to get a couple of saves and this is what it's like when you have the lead when you are on the road. I think that will build confidence within the group and while I might be answering my own question, but hopefully we don't have to answer this question much but we have belief in our guys and we can move forward."
For the New York Red Bulls, their horrible 1-6 start and the tale of two-goal leads lost are behind them (at least for now). All that's left for this season is the MLS Cup playoffs, beginning Sunday, October 30. The team must wait for the midweek round of post-season games to learn its opponent, and then the final stretch of the 2016 roller-coaster ride will be underway.