COLUMBUS, Ohio – Former New York Red Bulls winger and fan favorite Macoumba Kandji spared a thought for his former club as he savored the feeling of advancing to the Eastern Conference Championship game on Saturday night with the Colorado Rapids:
“Tough luck for NY,” Kandji said. “I have a lot of friends over there still and it’s unlucky for them. But I’m really, really happy to make the conference final.”
Kandji and the Rapids defeated the Columbus Crew in a penalty-kick shootout after finishing the two-leg series tied 2-2 on aggregate. New York, for their part, suffered elimination at the hands of the San Jose Earthquakes, losing 3-2 on aggregate.
The Senegalese attacker, who advanced to a conference championship with New York in 2008, was traded from the Red Bulls to the Rapids on Sept. 14 in exchange for Mehdi Ballouchy.
“After the trade, I’m really happy to keep on going forward,” Kandji said.
On Saturday night in the second leg against Columbus, 25-year-old Kandji was brought on in the 76th minute as Colorado desperately searched for a goal in order to prevent elimination at Crew Stadium.
Eight minutes after being introduced, Kandji delivered a strong pass into space for teammate Omar Cummings, who then fired a pinpoint cross into Conor Casey for the critical 84th-minute goal that tied the series 2-2 on aggregate.
“Mac made a really nice run, a really nice pass,” Cummings said. “When I saw that open up, I went around [Shawn] Francis. I saw Conor coming and put [the cross] in.”
“I had a good feeling that we were going to score,” Kandji said. “We were putting a lot of people in. … It was just a matter of time.”
The drama was not over for Kandji, who also had a strong effort on goal saved by Crew goalkeeper Andy Grunebaum in overtime.
Kandji was tabbed by his manager to take the second penalty kick in the pressure-packed shootout. Grunebaum nearly stopped the attempt, but the ball deflected under the ‘keeper’s hands and trickled agonizingly slowly across the goal line.
“Tough luck he didn’t save it and that’s good for me,” Kandji said. “I’ve been taking penalties since I was a little kid, so I was confident. I asked for it, I wanted to take a PK.”
With the Red Bulls out of the picture, the Rapids earned the right to host the Eastern Conference championship match against the San Jose Earthquakes next Saturday, Nov. 13 (9:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel). The winner will advance to the MLS Cup final.
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