Ignacio Piatti scored twice, the second in the 85th minute to break a tie, as Montreal advanced to the MLS Eastern Conference finals with a 2-1 victory over the Red Bulls Sunday in Harrison, N.J. Montreal won the two-leg series 3-1 on aggregate score.
The Red Bulls' Bradley Wright-Phillips scored in the 77th minute to tie it, finishing a centering pass from Daniel Royer. But Piatti scored his second goal eight minutes later to end the Bulls' hope of sending the match and series to overtime.
Montreal will play the winner of the New York City FC-Toronto series in the two-leg Eastern Conference finals.
Piatti scored the opening goal in the 51st minute, when his swerving shot sent Luis Robles the wrong way. It came 30 minutes after U.S. national team selection Sacha Kljestan missed a penalty that would have tied the series.
The Red Bulls' next match is in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals Feb. 22 against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Once again, the Bulls failed to live up to their potential. After finishing the season in first place in the Eastern Conference and on a winning streak dating back to July, they experienced yet another postseason collapse with a weak performance over two legs against Montreal.
Coach Jesse Marsch made two changes to the lineup from the first leg. Sal Zizzo started in place of the injured Kemar Lawrence and Gonzalo Veron took Mike Grella's spot on the wing. Veron put in a strong performance, pitching in on defense and earning a penalty that was squandered by a misfiring Kljestan. Whether the Argentine designated player's performance good enough to keep him around next year remains to be seen.
It was that missed penalty that is probably the deciding moment of the series. Kljestan struck the ball well, but it was saved by Montreal's Evan Bush. Had he converted in the first half, the series would have been tied at 1-1, with the Red Bulls having all of the momentum to push for a game and series winner. Regardless of the missed opportunity, they had several more chances to score and dominated possession, but were unable to inflict their will on a veteran, disciplined Montreal side.
Once the first goal was scored by Piatti, the series was all but over. The Red Bulls mounted a late comeback attempt with a goal fromWright-Phillips, but it was an exercise in futility for a squad that struggled to put shots on target for two straight matches.
This is the 21st year of Major League Soccer, and the Red Bulls have still never won MLS Cup. Despite entering the playoffs as favorites, it's another early exit for the underachieving club.