Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
In a classic battle between two of Major League Soccer’s elites, it seemed only right that the game-winning goal would come in 90th minute stoppage time.
For the third time this season, New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill scored the deciding goal, sending in a crucial header off a free kick from teammate Juninho in the first minute of stoppage time to defeat the Los Angeles Galaxy, 1-0, on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena.
“I knew where Juninho was going to put it,” Cahill said after the match. “I knew it was going to be dangerous and it was just a matter of getting contact.”
Though there was plenty of attacking talent in attendance, the match was a gritty defensive performance by both sides in the final third of field. Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza saved a chipped shot off the line from Red Bulls forward Fabian Espindola in the 28th minute, while Red Bulls defenders Markus Holgersson and Jamison Olave worked well to keep Galaxy forwards Robbie Keane and Jose Villarreal’s touches around the goal to a minimum.
“From the first moment, the first tackle (Olave) get’s in to, he’s somebody that a forward is going to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of the game,” Red Bulls manager Mike Petke said. “He’s a guy who makes a difference.”
Just seconds before halftime, Keane had a chance to put his team on the scoreboard with a free kick from 25 yards out. The 32-year-old hit a bending free kick towards the left post that saw Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles make a diving save to his right to keep the Galaxy off the board.
“We just needed a little, maybe ten more percent, and I think we probably could’ve won the game,” Keane said. “I think we just didn’t have the attacking resource that we did a few nights ago.”
Coming into the second period of play, the two squads made adjustments. The Red Bulls began to play more diagonal balls forward and really use the wings as a means of attack, while the Galaxy brought midfielder Landon Donovan more central to link with Keane.
“I thought in the second half we came out with a better understanding of what we wanted to do,” Petke said. We came out with a better mentality and we possessed the ball better than we did in the first half.”
Galaxy manager Bruce Arena brought on flamboyant forward Gyasi Zardes in the 61st minute, and just seconds later Donovan slammed a first-timed shot that whizzed over the bar. In the 78th minute, Zardes beat the offside trap and nearly scored if not for the sliding save of Robles, who was quick off his line to knock the shot away.
In the 89th minute, the Red Bulls defense let down their guard for just a second, as Zardes ran unopposed down the right wing before crossing into the middle, where between Olave and Holgersson, Keane jumped and sent a header towards the far post, just missing the post by inches.
After nearly providing the game-winning assist, Zardes next committed what would be one of the key fouls of the match. Juninho stepped up to take the free kick, and the 38-year-old did not disappoint, sending a perfectly weighted ball to the far post where Cahill arrived to head the ball past Galaxy goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini and into the net.
“I have (Henry) to thank for the block on Gonzalez,” Cahill said about his fourth goal of the season. “He’s a big guy and was heading everything away.
“It’s good when you seem to have a chance to produce in big games and I’ve managed to come up for us lately, so it’s nice.”
For the Galaxy, the scoreline is their third loss in four matches, with all the goals conceded coming in the second half.
“I’m very disappointed not having the minimum of four points in the road trip, even though it was a good effort from our guys,” Arena said. “I’m disappointed for our players because we certainly played well enough to get out of here with a point.”
The win moves the Red Bulls four points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference and extends their unbeaten run to six matches. Even thought they secured the victory, Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry knew his side could play better.
“I don’t think we played well today,” Henry said. “I actually thought the way they were playing, especially at the end, that they [Galaxy] deserved to win the game. Since I’ve been here I think we would have lost that game.
“The thing I learned today is that we can win these types of games.”
Here are the match highlights: