HARRISON, N.J. – Trailing by a goal and facing playoff elimination on Thursday night, the New York Red Bulls needed a spark to jolt their attack and unlock Sporting Kansas City’s defense.
They turned to their French veteran.
After the Red Bulls rallied late behind a Bradley Wright-Phillips brace to defeat Sporting KC, 2-1, in a dramatic Eastern Conference Knockout Round clash, Wright-Phillips grabbed most of the headlines for his continued goalscoring prowess.
But it was Luyindula who helped create both of the goals in New York’s first home playoff win in nearly a decade.
Inserted into the game in the 65th minute, Luyindula was the definition of an impact substitute. The 35-year-old veteran took up the attacking midfield role in coach Mike Petke’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and went on to notch secondary assists on both the equalizer and winner.
“Peguy, when he’s on, is able to control the ball, is able to do things with the ball that not many people can: spreading the ball out, hold the ball for us when we’re giving it away too much.” said Petke afterwards.
“I thought he did well. I thought he stepped into a difficult situation where we weren’t having success going through the middle and him jumping into the middle spot. I think there were times that he did well, held the ball for us, linked up well with Thierry and Bradley.”
Luyindula’s first major contribution came in the 77th minute. Receiving a pass from Dax McCarty in the final third, Luyindula quickly turned and saw Henry making a darting run into the penalty area. Luyindula flicked it to his compatriot with the outside of his right foot, threading the needle to allow Henry to send a low cross that Wright-Phillips stabbed home.
That impressive display of skill helped open up the game, but his involvement in the 90th-minute win was even more important.
Luyindula again received a pass from McCarty on that play, albeit much further from goal, and cunningly sidestepped a challenge before hitting a beautiful ball behind the Sporting defense down the right flank to Ambroise Oyongo, whose cross was headed home by Wright-Phillips to secure advancement.
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“Peguy was a huge lift for us,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles. “Peguy came in with the mindset that he’s just going to be offensive, and he found those pockets of space and did a great job for us. It just shows the quality of this team, the guys coming off the bench, the guys that aren’t even participating.
“It’s a good roster, so that’s definitely something we’ve experienced all year and we’re glad that he played the way he did this game.”
While Luyindula proved an effective substitute, before the game some observers wondered why he had been benched in the first place. He had been a key part to much of the Red Bulls’ success down the stretch, providing the type of complementary attacking weapon that helps open the game up for Henry and Wright-Phillips.
Whether he starts in the first leg of the semifinal series vs. D.C. United on Sunday (4 pm ET, Univision Deportes, MLS LIVE) remains to be seen, but Luyindula made a strong case for himself with his game-changing performance on Thursday night.
“We know what he’s capable of, he’s capable of doing that,” said winger Lloyd Sam. “He’s a great player to have on the squad, and to even start, or bring on. It’s no surprise to me.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.