It was all there for Felipe. At the beginning of the season he was the man taking all the free kicks and corner kicks for the Red Bulls, but his inconsistency prompted coach Jesse Marsch to give Sacha Kljestan those duties.
But here he was Wednesday night in Montreal, standing over the ball 25 yards from the net on the left side in the third and final minute of second-half stoppage time, looking to win the game against his former team.
The ball zipped around the inside of the wall and, for a moment, appeared to be headed into the far corner, but it short-hopped off the base of the right post and the whistle blew seconds later to conclude hard-fought 1-1 tie with the Impact before 19,213 at Saputo Stadium.
“I was really hoping to score in the last minute,” Felipe said. “But I think we played well. From the first minute we played the game we've been playing. We pushed the game, but at the end it was 1-1, maybe a little unlucky but now it's on to the next one.”
The game had more intensity than you would expect in the regular season, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why. Marsch, the Impact’s first coach in history in 2012, lasted just one season. Felipe played three seasons for the Impact before coming to the Red Bulls this year, and defender Karl Ouimette, a Montreal native, was surprisingly cut from the Impact in February.
On the other side, Impact midfielder Eric Alexander and defender Ambroise Oyongo were traded by the Red Bulls to Montreal in the offseason for Felipe and the first spot in the MLS allocation ranking, which the Red Bulls used to acquire Kljestan.
“I'm very proud of our team tonight. This has been a tough place for teams to get results,” Marsch said. “I thought we came in here and we pushed the game in a really good way, and in the most part we were the better team on the day and a little unlucky not to get the win.
“This game was not about me in any way, it was about our team. Coming in here, in a big game against a good team, and making sure we gave everything we have. It was a little weird to be back and to sit on the other bench and everything. Other than some of the familiarity, it was about the team today.”
The Red Bulls (9-6-6) pulled within eight points of first-place D.C. United in the Eastern Conference with three games in hand and ran their road unbeaten streak on the road to three games (2-0-1).
“I think right now everyone needs points in the East,” Ouimette said. “It was an intense match with a lot of individual battles. The Montreal players are all really technical, so constantly having individual duels against them creates a lot of tension, and we saw that tension throughout the entire game.
“It was a little bit weird in the beginning when I first came out. Coming out of the tunnel, going to the other side when I was so used to sitting on the home side. I'm not going to lie, I got shivers like if it was a home match. But we forget all that when the game starts and need to give it all we got.”
And they did. The Red Bulls applied pressure and should have taken the lead in the third minute, but midfielder Mike Grella curled a right-footed shot from the top of the box just wide of the right post. The Red Bulls were also unfortunate in the 14th minute when Impact defender Laurent Ciman was only issued a yellow card for what seemed like a blatant hand ball to prevent a goal-scoring opportunity.
That’s when the Red Bulls defense took over, with goalkeeper Luis Robles making a diving deflection off a Dominic Oduro shot from the right in the 29th minute, and defender Kemar Lawrence deflecting a cross to prevent a scoring opportunity on a 2-on-1 break two minutes later. Lawrence was making his first start since July 4 due to CONCACAF Gold Cup commitments.
The Impact (8-8-4) took the lead in the 42nd minute on a goal by Oduro, who was a member of the Red Bulls for a brief period in 2009. Oduro slipped a pass in the box to midfielder Dilly Duka, who tried to control the ball as he bumped Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty. The momentum of both players took them a step past the ball and Oduro swept in and drilled a low shot into the net.
The Red Bulls tied the match seven minutes into the second half. A sequence of 10 straight passes moved the ball around the perimeter of the Montreal defense until it landed at the feet of Grella on the left side. His cross into the box appeared to be intended for Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was blanketed by two defenders. But the ball sailed farther to midfielder Lloyd Sam, who was cutting past Impact defender Donny Toia.
As Sam leaped into the air, the ball deflected off the inside of his right boot and trickled into the lower left corner for his sixth goal of the season and 15th of his career. That made Sam the seventh player in franchise history to score 15 goals and collect 15 assists. The others were Thierry Henry, Clint Mathis, Amado Guevara, Dane Richards, Eduardo Hurtado and Joel Lindpere.
“I thought Lloyd on the day was extremely impressive, very confident going after Toia a lot, getting crosses over and being on the move,” Marsch said. “Obviously (he) scores a good goal, did all the things we talked about in terms of being dynamic, being a multi-dimensional player. I thought he showed a lot of that tonight.”
The intensity continued in the second half, and not just between the two teams. In the 66th minute, Ouimette and McCarty had words and there was some minor pushing and shoving before teammates intervened.
The Red Bulls got a break in the 79th minute when Ciman received his second yellow card for a trip on Sal Zizzo from behind, but couldn’t take advantage of the extra man the final 11 minutes of the match.
But everything would have been different if Felipe’s direct kick in the 93rd minute had been just a few inches to the left.
“It's always nice to come back and it was my first time,” Felipe said. “The fans were good to me, and I think it’s because they know that everything I can do, I did for this club. Now it's a new team, new fans, but I really enjoyed this game even though we didn't get two more points.”