Rafa Marquez endured not one, but two miserable playoffs for the Red Bulls during head coach Hans Backe’s tenure. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

We all like to play the blame game. It’s never our fault. It’s someone else’s.

That goes double in the post-season, especially when the Red Bulls/MetroStars have been involved.

Some of their MLS playoff defeats have been self-inflicted, others from outside sources. This story is a look at some of the goats in club playoff history.

So, here’s a list of finger pointing:

1. and 2. Rafa Marquez, midfielder, defender (2011, 2012)

No player in club history, or in MLS history, for that matter, endured two embarrassing performances and endings in back-to-back seasons except for this Mexican international.

Marquez is the only Red Bull to be red carded after the final whistle, just moments after referee Alex Prus signaled the LA Galaxy had secured a 1-0 victory at Red Bull Arena after the Western Conference semifinal first leg in 2011. Marquez threw the ball at U.S. international Landon Donovan, which started a post-game melee. Marquez was slapped with a red card along with LA’s Juninho. Both players missed second leg in Carson, Calif. and Marquez was slapped with a three-game suspension that lasted into the opening two matches of the 2012 season.

In 2012, Marquez certainly outdid himself in both ends of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with D.C. United. After the first game in Washington, D.C., Marquez was livid in the locker room at halftime of the Red Bulls’ 1-1 tie in the first leg. He had been pulled out of the match with a calf injury in an effort to keep him healthy and fit for the return leg at Red Bull Arena and Marquez was fine with that decision. But what Marquez reportedly did not agree with was who was going to replace him — Costa Rican international Roy Miller. “Rafa was furious at the decision to put in Roy, said that it wasn’t the right choice and was screaming at Hans about it,” a source within the league said. “He kept yelling and saying that Miller wasn’t the right choice and he shouldn’t go in and that it was a bad decision. Basically what he was saying was that Roy wasn’t any good.”

In the second leg at RBA, Marquez was given his marching orders for his second yellow card in the 75th minute. The Red Bulls lost the game, 1-0, and the series to D.C., 2-1. Marquez became the first player in league history to end back-to-back playoffs with a red card. The same thing happened to him in 2011, when he started a melee by throwing the ball at LA Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan after a 1-0 loss.

3. Rob Johnson, forward (1996)
The MetroStars’ playoff futility had to start somewhere, and it began in the very first season. Like it or not, but the former Rutgers standout let to the team’s ultimate demise in the third and final game of the Eastern Conference semifinals elimination by eventual champion D.C. United. With the series and game both tied at 1-1, Johnson fouled Marco Etcheverry inside the penalty area. Referee Brian Hall ruled a penalty kick and Raul Diaz Arce converted in the 89th minute. A few minutes later D.C. had a 2-1 win. “There was no question about the penalty,” MetroStars coach Carlos Queiroz told the New York Times. “Soccer is not a fair game. It’s not fair to lose like that in the last minute.” Incidentally, that was Queiroz’s last game with the team as he left several days later to guide Grampus Eight in Japan, which gave him a three-year contract for $6 million.

4. Bradley Wright-Phillips (2014)
Incredible as this may sound, Bradley Wright-Phillips admitted he did not know that his yellow card in the 60th minute of the Red Bulls’ 2-1 MLS playoff loss to the New England Revolution led to a one-game suspension in next week’s second leg. The reality is that the 2014 Major League Soccer scoring champion missed a must, must, must win situation at the New England in the second leg. The Red Bulls did pay — dearly. Without BWP, they played a 2-2 draw in New England, missing a trip to MLS Cup by a goal. “I didn’t know the rules of the yellow card accumulation,” he said after the first leg. “I’m angry obviously, I’m angry. Stupid yellow card and now I have to pay.” The Red Bulls did pay — dearly. Without BWP, they played a 2-2 draw in New England, missing a trip to MLS Cup by a goal. Head coach Mike Petke took the blame for BWP, but the damage already had been done.

5. The entire Red Bulls team

That’s right, the entire team deserves the blame here. Come one! Losing a two-goal lead in the second half?. FrontRowSoccer.com called the game “A comedown of epic proportions” for the losers in a mind-boggling 4-3 defeat to the Philadelphia Union Oct. 20, 2019. Leading 3-1 in the second half, the Red Bulls allowed Jack Elliott score in the 52nd minute. Faja Picault finished a Sergio Santos right-wing cross from six yards past Robles to complete a stunning comeback to knot the match at 3-3 in the 78 minute. Marco Fabian scored from a difficult angle from the left side of the penalty area past goalkeeper Luis Robles in the 105th minute to climax a remarkable two-goal comeback for a 4-3 Philadelphia triumph at Talen Energy Stadium. After securing an impressive 3-1 halftime lead, the sixth-seeded side allowed it to slip away as the Philadelphia Union recorded one of the great comeback victories in the league’s 25-year playoff history. It also was one of the great collapses in MLS playoff history as well.

6. Sacha Kljestan (2017)
After dropping a 2-1 decision at home to Toronto FC in the first leg of the semifinal series, the Red Bulls needed to win and win big in the second leg in Toronto. They wound up winning game, but lost Kljestan, their captain, to a red card. Kljestan, who got into a halftime altercation with former Red Bulls striker Jozy Altidore in the tunnel at BMO Field. For someone who is supposed to set an example to his teammates, not exactly the best way to show it. Kljestan was dispatched to what is becoming the Devils Island of MLS, Orlando City SC, for two role players who did not make much of an impact this season.

7. David Carney, and No. 8 Ibrahim Sekagya, defenders (2013)

They made mistakes in each leg of the conference semifinal series against the Houston Dynamo, Carney in the first leg, Sekagya in the second leg. With the Red Bulls leading 2-0 at halftime, the Dynamo cut the deficit in half only six minutes into the second half, thanks to a poor clearance by Red Bulls left back David Carney. His clearance went straight to former MetroStars midfielder Ricardo Clark, who launched a 19-yard shot past goalkeeper Luis Robles. The result was a 2-2 draw.

In the second leg at RBA, the Dynamo was gifted a goal by the Red Bulls in the 36th minute on a poor clearance by Sekagya. While on the right side of the area, he sent the ball directly to an open Brad Davis on the left side of the penalty area. Without anyone on him, the former MetroStars midfielder took a couple of steps placed a relatively easy 13-yard shot to the left of Robles for a 1-1 deadlock.

“I was stunned, I was absolutely stunned,” Robles said. “When that ball was played across and he just intercepted like that, what a crappy situation to be in.”

9. Kenny Cooper, forward (2012)

Cooper, the team’s leading goal-scorer (18 goals) missed a penalty kick that had to be retaken against United — after he converted the first attempt– that cost the Red Bulls a chance to tie. After taking a pass from Dax McCarty, Cooper was tripped by goalkeeper Bill Hamid just inside the penalty area in the 73rd minute. Referee Mark Geiger immediately signaled for a penalty kick and then red carded Hamid. United coach Ben Olsen was forced to replace midfielder Branko Boskovic with reserve keeper Joe Willis. Cooper waited for Willis, inserted cold into the match, to make his move and he fired his attempt into the lower left corner. However, the goal did not count as Geiger ruled that players had encroached in the area during the kick and had the kick retaken. Replays showed that Thierry Henry had encroached.

On his second try, also in the 73rd minute, Cooper decided to fire his shot to the lower right. This time Willis guessed correctly and made the save. Cahill would not allow any member of the media to talk to a sullen Cooper, who sat at a locker looking ahead and stunned. “What can you say? It’s life,” he said. “I’ve missed penalties in the past. I don’t even for one instant blame him. He has 18 goals. I don’t want him to talk, who wants to talk after that. We’re a team, we look after each other and this is why I’m here. I want to make sure that my players can walk away with a bit of pride.”

10. Thierry Henry, forward (2012)
Besides his encroachment, it was something that Henry did not do in that D.C. encounter. When he is in the lineup, Henry takes virtually every free kick and corner kick. With the game on the line against D.C., the former French international decided to allow someone who hadn’t tried a set piece all season — Miller. With the game and season on the line two minutes into stoppage time, Henry allowed Miller, a Costa Rican international left back who hadn’t scored in his three seasons in MLS, to take the kick. Miller sent his attempt some 20 rows into the supporters section behind the goal. “Roy is a left-footed player, the angle is different for me on that side. With Tim we talked about – with Roy [too] and we wanted to surprise the goalkeeper,” Henry said. “Make them think I’m going to take it and Roy take it. That side is better for a left foot player to take it. It didn’t work.”

11. Clint Mathis, midfielder-forward (2003)

After dominating teams in 2000 and early 2001 and returning from an ACL injury to score a textbook goal at the 2002 World Cup, Mathis never really lived up to his promise and reputation. Mathis was blanked in the playoff elimination loss to the New England Revolution. After the MetroStars lost the first leg of the total goals series at home, 2-0, Mathis went into the Giants Stadium stands to confront some unhappy fans. It was not a sight the team needed or wanted. Mathis left to play for Hannover 96 in Germany.

12. Jorge Reyes, assistant referee (2000)
Reyes, an assistant referee, disallowed what the MetroStars and many observers claimed was a valid goal in the 63rd minute of the third and final MLS semifinal match against the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field. The score was tied at 2-2 at time when Adolfo Valencia scored a goal. Or so he thought. According to the New York Times, “Valencia, who not only appeared to be onside, but had also seen the Fire’s Jesse Marsch play the ball first, was livid at the call.” MetroStars goalkeeper Mike Ammann cursed the officiating and Tab Ramos complained about the call. And the MetroStars were livid after the game, which was won by the Fire, 3-2, on an Ante Razov goal in the 88th minute. “We had a clear goal taken away from us,” Ramos was quoted by The Times, “and the refereeing was awful. To lose like this was a shame.” He wasn’t the only one angry. “This is a huge problem, not just for us now, but for MLS This is supposed to be a FIFA referee, and everyone can see that he stole from us tonight,” former Germany star and defender Lothar Matthaeus told the paper. Referee Tim Weyland reportedly was escorted from the field by security guards after the final whistle.

13. Gilmar, midfielder (2001)
He became the first MetroStar to be red carded in a playoff game, receiving his marching orders from referee Terry Vaughn in the 65th minute of the team’s 1-1 draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy (opponents have been given the ultimate card five times in the post-season) in the first game of an opening round series. The MetroStars played 18 minutes a man down before Paul Caligiuri, who scored L.A.’s goal, was dismissed.

14. Mike Petke, defender, and 14. Mike Duhaney, midfielder (1998)
OK, Petke and Duhaney weren’t the only reasons why the MetroStars lost a shootout to the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But they missed their shootout attempts after a 1-1 tie as the visitors registered a 3-2 tie-breaking win to clinch a spot in the conference final. Columbus goalkeeper Juergen Sommer, who was born in New York City, stopped both of their shots after the Crew won the first encounter at home, 5-3.

16. Sacha Kljestan (2016)
Unbeaten in 16 games heading into the playoffs, the Red Bulls had a golden opportunity to take the lead over the Montreal Impact in the 20th minute first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals after Gonzalo Veron picked the pocket of Victor Cabrera and was taken down in the box for a penalty by goalkeeper Evan Bush. But Bush got his revenge by saving Kljestan’s PK attempt and preventing the visitors from grabbing the momentum.

17. The entire Red Bulls team (2015)
You really can’t point the finger at anyone player or coach for what transpired in the opening nine seconds of the Columbus Crew’s 2-0 win of the Eastern Conference final series first leg in Columbus. The Crew caught the Red Bulls napping as Justin Meram scored. A long ball from Kei Kamara was sent into the penalty area that Ethan Finlay headed down to Meram, who scored from 12 yards on the right side past goalkeeper Luis Robles to give Columbus a stunning 1-0 advantage with the fastest playoff goal in MLS history. No excuse for what happened.

18. Bob Bradley, coach (2003)
Bradley’s decision was not made during the playoffs, but it affected the Eastern Conference semifinal series. In the final game of the regular season against the New England Revolution, Bradley decided to rest regulars. The Revs won and secured second place over the MetroStars, who finished third. The Revs got the home-field advantage in the total goals series, hosting the second game. Bradley sloughed off the importance of finishing second. The Revs won both legs, 2-0, and moved on as the MetroStars continue to wallow in playoff futility. Who knows what would have happened if the Metros enjoyed the advantage? Perhaps things could have been different if the MetroStars had the final game at home. Maybe not. But it was dubious strategy at the time and there likely is no coach today who would make such a decision with so much on the line.

19. Bora Milutinovic, coach (1998)
Do you really think the MetroStars had any sort of a chance in the playoffs against the Columbus Crew after the former U.S. national coach took over for the fired Alfonso Mondelo late in the season? Bora never understood MLS rules. After winning his regular-season finale, the Red Bulls went down twice to the Crew in the opening round, dropping a 5-3 fiasco in Columbus (it was over, 4-0, at the half) before losing in a shootout at home.

20. Bruce Arena, coach (2007)
For some reason, Clint Mathis became persona non-grata for Arena during the stretch run. Arena decided to use Mathis, in his second stint with the team, turned into Claudio Reyna’s caddy in the playoffs. He replaced the team captain in the 86th minute of the scoreless draw in the first leg and took over for an ailing Reyna in the 26th minute of the 1-0 loss in the second leg. Arena would have been wiser to start Mathis instead of having him taking a secondary role.

21. Michael Amir Murillo, defender (2017)
With the score tied at 1-1, Murillo wasn’t where he was supposed to be — guarding the left post — on Sebastian Giovinco’s 25-yard free kick in the 72nd minute in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Toronto FC. Giovinco is the best free-kick taker in MLS. As the Red Bulls set up up their four-man defensive wall, he scampered back to the left post, but to no avail. He did not get there in time as the Italian striker swung his set piece into the corner for the game-winner in a 2-1 victory. This could move up on the list if the Red Bulls are eliminated Sunday.

22. Omer Damari, midfielder (2016)
Three minutes into second-half stoppage time, Damari, who replaced Alex Muyl in the 82nd minute, was red carded for a serious foul the opening leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. While it did not affect the outcome of the match, the card kept Damari out of the second leg.


Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.