This was the one game of the New York Red Bulls' regular season run-in that it felt like they couldn't win. Vancouver Whitecaps hadn't won a match in MLS since mid-July coming into this one, and it didn't matter. It didn't matter because RBNY hadn't won a road game in the league since May, and hadn't won against Vancouver since...ever.
And the Red Bulls were further hindered by the absence of Sacha Kljestan and Kemar Lawrence for World Cup qualifying, the uncertain fitness of Luis Robles, and the fact this was Dax McCarty's first start since he was hobbled in Chicago.
Sure, RBNY was unbeaten in nine straight and Bradley Wright-Phillips had found MVP-level form, but it would take more than a nice run of results and the club's most productive scorer of all time to beat the 'Caps. To beat the 'Caps, based on the evidence of history, it would take a miracle. The Red Bulls got their miracle in the shape of what has to have been Erik Hurtado's worst night as a pro, because if it wasn't his worst night he wouldn't be a professional soccer player. 'Caps coach Carl Robinson got his tactics exactly right, and his team repeatedly found Hurtado open and in space and...shanking shots wide from almost every conceivable angle.
The 'Caps couldn't hit the target. BWP did the rest.
Wright-Phillips converted his 17th goal of the season in a manner that reflected RBNY's entire match: the way he got there wasn't pretty, but the result was beautiful.
"It's something that we needed not playing well away from home, we have been getting goals and conceding late. But we were able to keep the lead and take the win," said BWP, "We managed to grind out to get the win. I remember a long ball from Aurelien (Collin) and then a few ricochets and then I was able to bury it."
It was also a significant goal for BWP's continuing assault on the MLS record books. He tied Chris Wondolowski for the most regular-season goals in three consecutive years.
BWP has tied the MLS record for most goals scored over 3 consecutive seasons (61); shared with Chris Wondolowski (61 goals, 2010-2012).— Jason Baum (@JasonBaumPR) September 4, 2016
"It's been an up and down ride, I know what you see on the pitch and I am lucky to have these guys pass me the ball and then convert," said Wright-Phillips with characteristic modesty.
In his first game back from the injury that wiped out his August, Captain Dax McCarty put in 76 battling minutes on one of the least-forgiving surfaces in MLS.
"Fantastic road win for us, an ugly game and sometimes you need to grind out a result," said McCarty, "It was great to be back, I felt rusty in the first half and the speed of the game does get you a bit. Especially playing against a team like Vancouver who is desperate and physical. Getting off from the fracture of my leg, but it was good getting back and I haven't missed that many games in my career."
With this 1-0 victory the Red Bulls are now on a two-match winning streak, a two-match shutout streak, and are 10 games unbeaten in MLS. And finally - finally - after Jesse Marsch has watched his team cough up leads on the road at the Union, Galaxy and DC United, the New York Red Bulls held on for a win away from home.
"I thought that we were organized, first half we were a bit lucky to get out of it scoreless. We turned the ball over in bad spots and were very lucky not to get punished," said Marsch, "Second half, our will and concentration to make sure that we put that game on our terms - and it was the type of game where you had to get to grind one out - and as I said at halftime that this would be the type of game where one goal will win this for us."
The positives from this game must contend with a pair of negatives: both Alex Muyl and Mike Grella will be suspended for the team's next match, against DC United, as they earned yellow cards that will draw automatic suspensions for accumulation.
But that is next week's headache. This weekend, if you check the Eastern Conference table, the Red Bulls have hopped over Toronto FC for second place in the standings and are one full point behind first-placed NYCFC. Imagine that: this team - the one that lost six out of seven to start the year and seems determined to fall on its face every time it leaves Harrison - has battled its way into a genuine fight for the East with six games left to play in its regular season.
There is hard work and Hate DC Week ahead for the team, but for now it's time to relax and enjoy this win.