Midfielder Tim Cahill scored his first MLS goal. File Photo: Vera / DailyHarrison.com
HARRISON – Just 30 minutes into Sunday night’s game against the Portland Timbers, the New York Red Bulls looked like a beaten team. It didn’t matter that their opponents were in last place in the MLS Western Conference standings. It was of no consequence that the Timbers had not won in their last seven games, going 0-5-2 in that stretch.
That’s because Portland jumped out to what appeared to be an insurmountable 2-0 lead in the first 30 minutes. The Red Bulls were going to need a little bit of luck and magic to keep their home unbeaten streak alive.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Defender Heath Pearce broke a 2-2 tie with a goal off a header late in the second half and Tim Cahill scored his first MLS goal, giving the New York Red Bulls a 3-2 victory against the Portland Timbers Sunday night at Red Bull Arena.
It marked the first time since Sept. 11, 2004, that the franchise had recovered from a two-goal deficit to win a match.
The then-MetroStars came back to defeat New England, also by a 3-2 score, after surrendering the first two goals. It was only the sixth time in the franchise’s history that they came back from being down two goals.
“When you go down two, you usually lose the game,” Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said. “It’s normally too much to recover from.”
Pearce, the All-Star defender, scored the game-winner in the 83rd minute off a fine feed from Jan Gunnar Solli, collecting his second goal of the season. Pearce rose high above a pack of players to head the ball home.
“It was a good timing play by Heath,” said Solli, who had two assists for the game. “I just lifted it up and there he was.”
The play started with a corner kick that went to Kenny Cooper at the far right post. Cooper kept possession and passed it back to Solli, who made the fine cross in front to the alert Pearce for the game-winner.
The win enabled New York to remain the lone MLS squad to be undefeated at home this season, improving to 9-0-3 at Red Bull Arena. They moved to 13-7-5 overall, good for second place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings behind Sporting Kansas City, trailing Sporting KC by two points. It was also the Red Bulls’ second straight win after two straight losses.
Portland dropped to 5-13-6 overall, failing to win for the eighth consecutive match.
After Bright Dike and Darlington Nagbe each scored a first half goal, giving the Timbers a 2-0 lead, the Red Bulls stormed back to score two goals in the final two minutes of the first half.
Cooper, who entered the game as a substitute midway through the first half, scored a goal on a header, his third consecutive goal on a header and 14th of the season. Then Cahill, the Australian superstar who signed with the Red Bulls earlier this month, scored his first goal off a deflection in front.
The Timbers shocked the Red Bulls by scoring first in the eighth minute.
Sal Zizzo outraced two Red Bull defenders to the ball, then made a perfect cross to Dike, who eluded Red Bulls defender Markus Holgersson to put a shot past Red Bulls goalie Bill Gaudette for a 1-0 Portland lead. It was Dike’s first goal of the season.
Portland pushed the lead to 2-0 in the 32nd minute, when they converted on a fine offensive set. Franck Songo’o kept the ball through three Red Bull defenders, then pushed it to the left for Zizzo.
Zizzo made a fine play drawing the defense to him, then passed it ahead to Nagbe, who beat Red Bull defender Pearce to the ball and knocked it past Gaudette for his fifth goal of the year.
The damage could have been far worse if Gaudette didn’t make a diving save on a Dike shot in the 40th minute.
From that point, the Red Bulls played inspired soccer, tying the game before halftime.
New York scored its first goal just two minutes after Gaudette’s save on a rush that saw the ball touch five Red Bull players.
Dax McCarty took the ball up the middle of the field, then found Solli on the right flank, who crossed it perfectly to Cooper, who uncharacteristically headed it home. Cooper very rarely uses his head, but found the net the last three times with header attempts.
Cooper had just entered the match in the 36th minute, replacing Roy Miller, who made a bad read on the Timbers’ second goal after he had a chance to clear the ball. Backe removed Miller soon after the play. All Miller had to do was clear the ball, but he somehow enabled Portland to play on and it led to the goal.
“I think you have to go back 20 years to find the last time I substituted that early,” said Backe, obviously not pleased with Miller’s performance. “It made it quite easy to get Kenny on the pitch, because we needed him out there.”
The Red Bulls weren’t done. In the final minute before stoppage time, McCarty made another play and fired a shot toward the goal. The ball was deflected by David Horst and came right to the foot of Cahill, who booted it home for his first MLS goal.
Portland players were insistent that referee Jasen Anno blew his whistle for a hand ball in the box on the deflection, but the play stood and the match was tied at intermission.
“That really changed the game,” Dike said. “It hurt us. The ref clearly blew the whistle and three or four of our players just stopped. You can’t take advantage like that after the whistle was blown. Things just started to slip away from that point.”
“After the way we played in the first 45 minutes, getting two goals was a gift,” Backe said. “We were in trouble. We needed to come out with some energy. This is what this league is all about. You might play a team that’s 20 points behind you in the standings, but they can still cause you trouble. The way we played in the first half, we were very lucky to be in the game. We had too many unforced errors in the middle of the pitch. We sat back and they took advantage of our mistakes.”
Gaudette was huge in the second half, making three spectacular saves. In the 61st minute, Gaudette made a diving save of a hard shot from Nagbe. In the 65th minute, he came out of the goal to make a sliding stop on a fierce shot from Zizzo and in the 69th minute, he stopped a breakaway attempt by Diego Chara. Although he surrendered two early goals, it was Gaudette’s best game as a member of the Red Bulls.
“They were just saves,” Gaudette said. “I’m just doing my job. It wasn’t our best performance. We weren’t top notch. We all know we didn’t play our best. I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time. The only positive we have from tonight is that we got three points, but we can’t be happy with our performance.”
“Billy definitely saved us with his saves,” Backe said. “They had a chance to go up on us and he came up big. I don’t know if Billy has made one mistake in goal.”
“It was very lucky for us to be 2-2 at halftime,” Solli said. “I think that gave us some confidence and then Billy kept us in the game. He made a ton of world class saves.”
The Red Bulls are on the road for their next two games, facing first-place Sporting KC next Sunday, then face D.C. United on Wednesday, Aug. 29. They return to Red Bull Arena Sept. 15 for a match against Columbus, then have a game Wednesday, Sept. 19 at home against Sporting KC. The rush toward the playoffs is now in full throttle.