MLS Features: RBNY not satisfied with first playoff win at RBA

Philadelphia, PA ( – Red Bull New York head coach Mike Petke
does not believe in curses.

The so-called “Curse of Caricola,” a fable that began when the franchise’s
first-ever match ended in defeat following a last-minute own goal from
defender Nicola Caricola, was broken in 2013 when Petke, a first-year head
coach, guided the Red Bulls to the MLS Supporters’ Shield to snap a 17-season
barren spell and grant the club its first major trophy.

For his curtain call, Petke helped New York claim its first playoff win at Red
Bull Arena as the Red Bulls rallied for a 2-1 victory over reigning MLS Cup
champion Sporting Kansas City on Thursday.

There was, however, a bit of doubt creeping in. And to fully understand the
mindset of a Red Bulls fan come playoff time, the club’s shortcomings in the
postseason must be traced back to the last time it managed to find success on
home soil.

New York’s last home playoff victory came in 2005 when it was affectionately
known as the MetroStars. Amado Guevara tallied the lone goal of the contest to
give the club a 1-0 aggregate lead over the New England Revolution, but the
MetroStars were ousted with a 3-1 defeat in the return match at Gillette

A pattern of postseason underachievement followed, except for a bright run as
the wild card team in 2008 that culminated with an appearance (and loss) in
MLS Cup. New York’s home supporters were left wanting, though, as all of the
club’s wins in the playoffs that season came on the road.

The 2009 season was an abomination that saw New York finish the regular season
at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but there was reason for optimism
heading into the following campaign.

Red Bull Arena opened in 2010 with the Red Bulls landing a new coach, Hans
Backe. Thierry Henry even signed for the club during the summer to add another
dimension to the Red Bulls attack.

A first-place finish in the East had the Red Bulls primed to reach the Eastern
Conference finals that season. They took a 1-0 aggregate lead back to Red Bull
Arena in the opening round of the playoffs, but they were comprehensively
outplayed by the San Jose Earthquakes in a 3-1 home defeat, squandering a
tremendous chance to make a postseason splash as the top seed in the East.

In 2011, New York, the final team to lock up a postseason berth, advanced from
the play-in game with a 2-0 win at FC Dallas but was ousted by two losses to
the Los Angeles Galaxy, who would go on to get their first of two straight MLS
Cup titles.

After a 1-1 draw in the opening leg of its Eastern Conference semifinal
meeting with D.C. United in 2012, New York was on its way to extra time in the
return match at Red Bull Arena, which had produced 87 minutes of scoreless
soccer. But Nick DeLeon popped up two minutes from time to break Red Bull
hearts and send United through with a last-gasp winner.

The Red Bulls came even closer to advancing beyond the Eastern Conference
semifinals last season when, after a 2-2 road draw in the opening leg, they
held a one-goal lead over the Houston Dynamo on home soil. Extra time was
needed after Brad Davis leveled the score for the Dynamo in the 36th minute,
and the visitors went on to get the go-ahead goal through Omar Cummings, who
had been a largely overlooked striker amidst the plentiful attacking options
at Dominic Kinnear’s disposal.

Thursday’s match had a similar feel. The Red Bulls squandered chance after
chance in the opening period against Sporting as the two sides went into the
halftime interval scoreless. There was a sense that it could just be another
playoff debacle at Red Bull Arena where one mistake costs the team its entire

And wouldn’t you know, a giveaway from Eric Alexander in the 53rd minute
gifted Kansas City possession in a superb position. Benny Feilhaber picked off
an errant pass and advanced into the attacking third before slipping a
brilliant ball into the path of Dom Dwyer, who made no mistake in finishing
the chance with a well-taken shot.

It was like a recurring nightmare for Petke.

“There was a point late in the second half where I was questioning if this
team was scared of the playoffs,” the Red Bulls head coach said after the
match. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve been saying I don’t believe in any
curses, or jinxes or anything like that. But I thought maybe we were just
scared of the playoffs.”

Petke ultimately was proven wrong as the Red Bulls battled back to get the

Bradley Wright-Phillips played the role of the hero, scoring twice in the
final 13 minutes to see the hosts overturn the deficit.

Petke was over the moon about the home playoff win, but he acknowledged that
the Red Bulls have greater aspirations than simply advancing from the play-in

“It’s amazing,” Petke reflected, before saying, “for the moment. In 10
minutes, I’m going to forget about that feeling because we’re already
preparing for D.C. (United).”

The next curse Petke is tasked with breaking: defeat D.C. United in a playoff
series for the first time in franchise history.