Dave van den Bergh got the goal midway through the first half that earned the Red Bulls their first-ever appearance in the MLS Cup but the story of this game was the missed opportunities for Real Salt Lake.
Cheered on by a crowd of 20,008 RS: attacked all game outshooting New York 24-11. Four of those shots hit the woodwork and and Red Bulls goalkeeper Danny Cepero made several brillant saves to deny RSL again and again,
“It was chance after chance after chance,” second-year Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis said. “I drove myself to laughter on the bench. It was either that or cry.”“
“I think we hit every part of the post,” Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman mused. “Maybe it’s just soccer or voodoo. I don’t know what it is. It should have been the other way. We should have had all that voodoo stuff for us. It’s at home, right?”
The first such instance occurred in the 38th minute when Javier Morales lobbed a perfect ball off a free kick to Clint Mathis down low. Mathis got his boot to it and tried to guide a shot inside the right post, only to see it hit the woodwork and bounce away.
That proved to be only a warmup for similar misses late in the second half. One of the most painful came in the 81st minute after a nice sequence started by Andy Williams put Real in fantastic position.
Williams laid the ball off to Robbie Findley in stride. Findley crossed over to the left post, with Will Johnson trailing the ball as it neared the post. Johnson needed to simply put a finishing touch on it just before crossing the endline. Instead, he could only to direct the ball onto the left post and it bounced out back into the field of play.
RSL had one last gasp at reversing those bad bounces when Morales got a pair of cracks at the net in the final minute of stoppage time. His second shot had the look of the dramatic late-game momentum changers RSL had produced so frequently in the past few weeks.
But that shot, like the others before it, could not curl inside a post. By the time the ball bounced off, New York was on its way to celebrating a first-ever MLS Cup Final berth and RSL was left wondering what might have happened if even one bounce or two had simply gone the club’s way.
Our boys fought for 90 minutes, and when we didn’t manage to stop them, the post did,” New York coach Juan Carlos Osorio said. “The post is part of the goal. I feel a little sympathy for Jason (Kreis) because I think they probably deserved to tie the game, but that’s football.”
Although RSL will once again be a spectator when the MLS Cup is decided next weekend, the club can hold its head high at producing a season flush with success unrivaled at any other time in club history.
The future is bright because the past is no longer so dim.
“Nobody thought we were going to be here,” Rimando said. “Nobody thought we were going to be competing for an MLS Cup. We believed and we got to this position.”