HARRISON, N.J. – New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke made it seem like he did not believe in curses earlier in the week.
His tone changed considerably on Wednesday.
After seeing his Red Bulls suffer an early elimination from the playoffs at the hands of the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night, a dejected Petke answered the first question in his postgame press conference by saying, “I guess you can’t exorcise every demon.”
Petke went on to give credit to the Dynamo for their hard-fought 2-1 extra-time victory (4-3 on aggregate) in the second leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series at Red Bull Arena.
But on more than one occasion, Petke said the Red Bulls had only themselves to blame for gifting Houston a goal that brought them back from the dead, a troubling trend that began in Houston on Sunday and ultimately proved damning in the series for New York.
“It was individual mistakes, and they happen,” said Petke. “That happens a lot, and it happens to everybody: a missed cross, a bad touch. Whereas I don’t think that we saw many of that during the year [like] in years past, it seemed to creep up on us in the playoffs. Individual mistakes that anybody would make.”
Petke refused to single out center back Ibrahim Sekagya, but there is no denying that the veteran’s ill-advised pass in front of the Red Bulls’ penalty area in the first half was as costly as any play in the series. With the Red Bulls leading and dominating the Dynamo, Sekagya made the bizarre decision to hit a pass that Brad Davis easily picked off in front of goal. Davis then dribbled forward and easily beat goalkeeper Luis Robles.
“We pretty much give them a gift, an early Christmas present,” said midfielder Tim Cahill. “Hopefully, they can do something special and maybe win it. They’re definitely a team that can grind out the result, but even over the two legs I feel like we did enough to probably be the better team. They didn’t create hardly nothing. We gifted them goals away from home and then at home, so nothing much to say except they took their chances, their very few chances of what they had.”
While the pass from Sekagya was one of the key moments in Wednesday’s game, there were plenty of other reasons why New York’s season painfully came to an end at home.
The Red Bulls committed some sloppy turnovers, were wasteful and somewhat unlucky in front of goal – Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall had a monster performance after an early blunder allowed the Red Bulls to jump in front – and failed to threaten on numerous set pieces throughout their final 120 minutes of the season.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to have to sleep on it and reflect on it,” said forward Thierry Henry, who came agonizingly close but did not score on any of his nine shots in the second leg. “You lose and you win as a team. Not that long ago we were celebrating against Chicago, [lifting] the Supporters’ Shield. It’s great for the club, but we didn’t manage to go where we wanted to go this season. You can’t point fingers at people that have a couple of mistakes. We lost as a team.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.