HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls were on the brink of losing their first home game of the season, but a handful of quality stops from goalkeeper Bill Gaudette and a late goal from Heath Pearce ensured they once more picked up points at Red Bull Arena.
The Red Bulls rallied from two goals down to defeat the Portland Timbers 3-2 on Sunday, with Pearce heading home the decisive tally off a cross from Jan Gunnar Solli in the 83rd minute.
The win improved New York to 13-7-6 and put them one point behind Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, while it kept Portland at the bottom of the Western Conference at 5-13-7.
Portland got off to a flying start in the match, as Bright Dike buried a low cross from Sal Zizzo in the eight minute to give the visitors the lead. The goal was Dike’s first of the season and came in his first start for the Timbers.
The Red Bulls tried to respond, but an organized and compact Timbers team proved tough to crack midway through the opening half. Portland’s speedy attacking quartet of Zizzo, Franck Songo’o, Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe also proved problematic for New York, who gave up a second goal in the 32nd minute.
The Timbers doubled their lead by hitting on a counter attack following a Roy Miller turnover near midfield, with Nagbe rolling a shot past Gaudette after getting on the end of a pass from Zizzo.
With their undefeated record at home under threat, New York pulled one back 11 minutes later. Kenny Cooper, who replaced Miller in the 36th minute, headed home a Solli cross in the 43rd minute. The goal was Cooper’s 14th of the season and first against the team that traded him this past January.
The Red Bulls then equalized through Tim Cahill just before halftime on a controversial play. Dax McCarty hit a shot that deflected off of defender David Horst’s outstretched arms and center official Jason Anno blew his whistle and signaled for a penalty kick before changing his call after seeing Cahill bury the rebounded effort.
The hosts came out of the intermission looking more comfortable than in the first half, but again they were exposed by Portland’s speed on the counter. The Timbers had three separate one-on-one opportunities to go ahead after exposing New York’s defense, but Gaudette saved the day by stoning Nagbe, Zizzo and Chara.
Those saves opened the door for the Red Bulls to find a winner, and Pearce made no mistake on his headed effort in the waning moments of the match.
The Timbers return to action on August 25 when they host Western Conference rivals Vancouver Whitecaps. The Red Bulls, meanwhile, will next visit Sporting Kansas City in a critical Eastern Conference bout at Livestrong Sporting Park a day later.