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Oct 20, 2012

Red Bulls clinch playoff berth

HARRISON, N.J. -- The Red Bulls made it back to the MLS playoffs with a game to spare.

New York clinched its third straight playoff berth and ninth in 10 years with a 0-0 tie against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night. A win at Philadelphia next weekend would earn third place -- and avoid the one-game wild-card round.

"In my opinion, they're one of the best teams in the league," said KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who made five saves in his 15th shutout this season.

A record crowd of 25,219 attended the match at 3-season-old Red Bull Arena, where Kansas City won 2-0 last month.

"I think they came out with a different mentality and a different game plan," Nielsen said. "We did an incredible job of fighting through for 90 minutes."

New York (15-9-9), which has never won a Major League Soccer title despite a string of high-priced stars, helped San Jose earn homefield advantage throughout the 10-team playoffs as Supporters' Shield winner for the best record. The Earthquakes also had the best record in 2005, when they were knocked out in the quarterfinals.

Kansas City (17-7-9) extended its unbeaten streak to 11 games, despite the dominance of the Red Bulls.

"It was a quiet evening for Luis," Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said of goalkeeper Luis Robles. "He had nothing to do, except for one header 86 minutes in. One of the better games we played. We should have won the game 4-0. Even though it was 0-0, I was pleased with how we played. We pressed them all over the pitch."

Nielsen, who got could tie Tony Meola's MLS record of 16 shutouts, made a diving save on Dax McCarty's 20-yard, left-footed shot in the 23rd minute, and Kenny Cooper sent the rebound over the crossbar.

Nielsen deflected Cooper's rising shot over the bar in the 41st minute, raised a hand in the 65th to knock down a 12-yard angled shot by Thierry Henry, then had to prevent an own goal when the ball bounced off a defender. Nielsen made a diving save on McCarty's 17-yard volley in the 88th.

Robles had stopped a header by Kei Kamara at the far post in the 86th minute.

"I thought tonight we were in control of the game," Red Bulls star Thierry Henry said. "For once, we showed a good attitude. I thought right from the start and till the end. Their goalkeeper had a good day. The way we started the game, you could tell we were going to be in control."

KC coach Peter Vermes noticed a much-improved Red Bulls team.

"They had a different energy than they had in previous games. They had to secure their spot. I said to the team that it was going to be a playoff atmosphere. We came in with a game plan, but they had a different energy and that changed the game.

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