With the introduction of a ten-team playoff format for 2011, MLS featured a Wild Card round featuring the bottom four qualifiers. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, as the Wild Card games featured the four sides that did not finish among the top three of the two conferences. That meant fourth place FC Dallas dropped to seventh and sixth place Colorado Rapids dropped to eighth. Those two Western Conference sides hosted Eastern Conference qualifiers Red Bull New York and Columbus Crew, respectively, in one-game ties to place the winners into the two-legged quarterfinal round.
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Red Bull New York 2
Wednesday night’s playoff opener saw FC Dallas hosting Red Bull New York in front of just 10,017 at Pizza Hut Park. Dallas controlled the first half hour of the match, creating chances making New York look every bit the part of the last team to qualify for the playoffs. But Red Bull managed to keep Dallas from scoring, both from strong play by goalkeeper Frank Rost and through near misses by Jackson and Marvin Chávez. Daniel Hernández just missed with a key free kick early in the second half as New York kept just above water defensively. Then, just before the hour, Hans Backe, a manager known for not using his substitutes, replaced midfielder Dax McCarty (whom we later learned was injured) with Mehdi Ballouchy. Just two minutes later, Ballouchy sent a piercing through ball on the ground to the top of the six-yard box where Joel Lindpere had only to poke it past Kevin Hartman for a 1-0 Red Bull lead. Though New York had pulled themselves back into the match, the goal was still quite a surprise. Rather than chasing the game, Dallas seemed content to build attack in the same ways as before, yet that strategy did not pay off. The home side struggled to get create chances as the match waned, even after New York lost Jan Gunnar Solli to a straight red card in the 79th minute. A head-to-head collision between Rafael Márquez and Zach Loyd just as injury time began, led to an additional six minutes to be played once Loyd was carried off on a stretcher. Dallas continued to waste time and in the end, Thierry Henry scored the second in the 98th minute, collecting a rebound from his first shot that was saved by Kevin Hartman. The away victory sees Red Bull on to a dream quaterfinal tie with LA Galaxy starting Sunday at Red Bull Arena.
Colorado Rapids 1 – Columbus Crew 0
Only 7803 braved the cold to watch MLS Cup holders Colorado Rapids defeat Columbus Crew at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. With a game-time temperature of 32 (0 C) after several inches of snow fell the day before, the Rapids and Crew played on a rock hard surface. Yet the playing styles of both sides were not particularly hampered as neither usually plays the most attractive of football. Colorado, who defeated Columbus in the playoffs in 2010 as well, got their advantage in first half injury time thanks to the first ever post-season goal from Omar Cummings (pictured). The Jamaican international found space for his shot after a nice build up through Brian Mullan and Kosuke Kimura. Columbus were not dead though, and nearly equalized when Andrés Mendoza smashed a shot off the crossbar from outside the box in the the 55th minute. The Rapids kept Mendoza, the league’s fourth leading scorer this season, mostly in check on the night and were able to neutralize Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven on the wings, ultimately rendering the Crew headless in attack. Second half substitutes Emilio Rentería and Tommy Heinemann could not get into the game and the 2008 MLS Cup champions crashed out of the playoffs at their first opportunity. Colorado moves on to host Sporting KC, the Eastern Conference’s top seed, in the first of two legs, on Sunday.