Derrick Etienne celebrates his game-winning goal. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Ah, the life of an attacker in soccer.
One minute you’re up, the next minute you’re down.
When you’re down, you have to forget about your misses in a nano-second because the next opportunity could be knocking just around the corner.
In many respects, that’s what transpired for Derrick Etienne, Jr. at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.Sunday night.
In the 15th minute, Etienne had an opportunity to boost the Red Bulls ahead of Orlando City SC with a penalty kick, only he botched his first MLS attempt as Adam Grinwis dived to his right to deny the midfielder in the 15th minute after Bradley Wright-Phillips was fouled in the box.
Former Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan, now with Orlando, played a role in the save.
“I watched Derrick taking a hundred — I see it go to the left, I see it go to the right,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said. “Sacha had a hunch on that one, you know, sniffed that one out. Good for him I guess. We’d all try to do the same thing if we think we can help our goalkeeper out. This is part of it, right. We’d do the exact same thing, part of the game. Part of trying to win the game.
“Imagine if Sacha knew and didn’t say anything?”
The media laughed during the postgame press conference.
“It’s perfect,” Armas said. “Good job.”
Etienne talked about his PK miss and verbally kicked himself for changing his mind.
“Stepped up, took a terrible PK,” he said. “Goalie was able to make a save. I usually don’t go to that side. I changed my mind last minute, something I shouldn’t do and something I don’t really do. So, I knew I was going to have to reward the team with another chance whether that’s getting a goal or an assist – just making plays.
Etienne Jr., however, had some retribution eight minutes into the second half by scoring what turned out to be the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Orlando City SC. He dribbled past two defenders and beat goalkeeper Adam Grinwis low to the right corner.
“Came in at half time and everyone was like ‘yeah, it happens, everyone misses PKs, continue on with the game, ’ ” he said. “So, that was my mindset in the second half – doing anything I can to help us get a win and I was able to get a chance and finish it.”
Coupled with Atlanta United’s 4-1 defeat at Toronto FC, the Red Bulls clinched their third Supporters Shield crown in six MLS season.
“It means a lot,” Etienne said. “You look at a lot of these guys, a lot of academy guys, who look for this moment a lot. You have a lot of guys here who won USL Cup so, I mean, I think you can see it means a lot to a lot of guys to be able to get this result and bring back the Supporters’ Shield but we know it’s not over. We want MLS Cup. So, we’ll enjoy this tonight and then get ready for the next opponent.”
While the Supporters Shield is nice, the MLS Cup is better, much better, considering the Red Bulls have never won it. In fact, they have reached the championship final only once — 2008, but lost to Columbus Crew SC in Carson, Calif., 3-1.
In the Red Bulls’ 23rd season would mean a lot, especially since it would be at home at RBA because the team would have home-field advantage.
“It would mean a lot,” Etienne said. “I grew up watching the team, I’ve been in the academy for years and now being with the first team is something that all homegrown players take pride in. I think it would mean a lot to – I think, how many guys 8, 9 homegrowns and guys who play in USL and guys from the area. So, I think it would mean a lot to us that we could do it the way we’ve done it. So, we’re looking forward to the playoffs and making a run.”
As the top seeded in the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls will play the lowest surviving seed from this week’s knockout round games, that would be either D.C. United, Philadelphia Union or Columbus. The Red Bulls would play the first semifinal series match on the road Sunday, Nov. 4 and host the second encounter Nov. 11.
It would be impossible to meet New York City FC in the semifinal round, only in the conference final.
Of course, stranger things have happened.