BWP's late brace carries Metro past KC, 2:1
October 30, 2014
For over 75 minutes, it looked as though Metro was about to add another chapter to its voluminous tome of playoff failures. Up until that point, the game seemed to play out according to the "MPF" script: long stretches of dominating play came to nothing thanks to Metro's profligacy in front of goal, and a single lapse in concentration was punished with a Kansas City score. Tonight, however, there was magic on the banks of the Passaic, as substitute Peguy Luyindula set up two late goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips to bring Metro back from the brink and knock out the Wiz, 2:1.
With Titi Henry healthy (or close enough to it) after sitting out Sunday's game in Kansas, Mike Petke opted to start the French maestro in the left midfield position that Ambroise Oyongo occupied in the previous match. Tim Cahill, seemingly having managed to get himself out of Petke's doghouse, started behind Wright-Phillips as the attacking midfielder/withdrawn forward in Metro's 4-2-3-1 alignment. The rest of Sunday's lineup remained intact, meaning early season scapegoat Richard Eckersley started in the first MLS Cup playoff game of his career.
With the short rest between games and as well documented as Kansas City's fitness issues have been, it's unsurprising that Peter Vermes opted for a more defensive, counterattacking stance, playing more of a 4-5-1 than their usual 4-3-3. The shift in tactics allowed Metro players space and time when they had the ball, which they used to great effect from the opening whistle, controlling possession throughout the game. The first big chance came in the 17th minute off an Henry free kick from the right midfield. The ball bounded at Jamison Olave's feet, but the burly defender whiffed on his shot attempt and the ball dribbled out of the crowd to the left side of the six-yard box where Cahill was lurking. With the goal at his mercy, the Australian channeled his inner Wondolowski and blasted his shot well over the crossbar.
With the Wiz sitting so deep, it was the Metro show for the balance of the first half. Wright-Phillips appeared to score in the 23rd minute but was ruled offside in a very close decision. In the 32nd, Lloyd Sam sent in a sharp cross to BWP, but his header sailed well over the goal. Two minutes later, it was Wright-Phillips who sent Henry through on goal, with the captain mishitting a shot toward the far post. The game went to the half scoreless, but with Metro looking the more dangerous side.
It only took eight minutes from the second half kickoff for despair to set in. Under pressure receiving a pass in the midfield, Eric Alexander pushed the ball directly into the path of Benny Feilhaber, who broke hard as he saw the pass attempt. With a full head of steam, the US reject charged toward goal. When pressured by Dax McCarty near the top of the box, Feilhaber played a through ball to Dom Dwyer that split Olave and the recovering Ibrahim Sekagya. Luis Robles could not intervene as the Golden Boot runner-up placed his shot inside the far post.
Alexander was mercifully taken off for Luyindula in the 65th minute, and once the Frenchman settled into the game, he was able to make the critical difference. Finding space behind Henry and Wright-Phillips, Luyindula dragged the fatigued Kansas City backline out of position. Upon receiving a pass from McCarty in the 77th minute, he sent Henry through with a well-weighted ball. The captain took the ball to the endline and centered for BWP, who had slipped his marker. The Golden Boot winner slotted the ball to Eric Kronberg's right, drawing Metro level.
In years past, a late goal would likely mean that Metro would settle for the deadlock and attempt to wear out the fading visitors in extra time. However, as Metro's second half possession total crept over the 75% mark, Petke urged his charges to maintain their assault on the opposition goal, and the players responded in dramatic fashion in the 90th minute. Luyindula was again the catalyst, playing substitute Oyongo behind the Wiz defense where the Cameroonian fullback appeared to mishit a high, floating cross. No matter; when gravity finally brought the errant pass down to earth, Wright-Phillips was able to get enough of it to bounce a header inside the far post, inches past the fingertips of the diving Kronberg. Save for last year's Supporters' Shield-clinching victory, such a glorious sound has never been heard within the confines of Red Bull Arena.
And so thankfully, the home playoff winless streak has been broken, and the season has been extended for at least two more games. Two more chances for Henry and company to surprise us the way they did tonight. Bring on the Scum!
Lineup: Robles, Miller, Olave, Sekagya, Eckersley, McCarty, Alexander, Cahill, Sam, Henry, Wright-Phillips. Subs: Luyindula, Oyongo, Lade.