HARRISON, N.J. – For the first time in three games this season, the New York Red Bulls were the better side against Sporting Kansas City, but ultimately that did not matter.
Sporting KC clinched first place in the Eastern Conference on Saturday, playing to a hard-fought scoreless draw with the Red Bulls in front of an announced crowd of 25,219, the largest to ever attend a game at Red Bull Arena. Likewise, the Red Bulls, thanks to the Columbus Crew's loss at D.C. United, secured a spot in the MLS playoffs.
New York had the majority of the games’ chances and possession, but they never were able to find the breakthrough against a stingy Sporting KC defense and their in-form goalkeeper, Jimmy Nielsen. The Danish keeper earned his league-leading 15th clean sheet on the night.
Knowing Sporting KC would pressure them high up the field, the Red Bulls opened the game by holding onto possession but doing so with a lot of sideways and backwards passes. That allowed New York to avoid giving up yet another early goal this season against the visitors and it also opened the door for them to create some chances in a first half they dominated.
No chance was better in the opening half than Kenny Cooper’s missed look from close range on a tight angle in the 23rd minute. Dax McCarty fired a shot from 25 yards out that forced Nielsen into a diving save and the rebound fell to Cooper, who skied his shot well over the crossbar.
With the Red Bulls effectively taking the sting out of Sporting KC’s attack, Nielsen was again called into action in the 41st minute when Cooper blasted a shot from just outside the penalty area. Cahill one-timed a shot after a nice passing sequence from the hosts, but Nielsen made sure the first half ended scoreless by swatting the ball away with his right hand.
The Red Bulls continued to look the more dangerous side in the second half, but their first real chance after the intermission did not come until the 65th minute when Nielsen was again superb in stopping a near post shot from Thierry Henry.
New York’s failure to find a goal almost wound up costing them, as Kei Kamara headed a beautiful cross from Graham Zusi on target in the 86th minute. The Sporting striker should’ve finished it off, but goalkeeper Luis Robles made with a great reaction save to leave the game scoreless.
Both teams close out their respective regular seasons against Philadelphia Union in the upcoming week. Sporting KC host the Union on Oct. 24 while the Red Bulls will take a trip south to PPL Park to face Philadelphia three days later.