Sunday, July 31, 2011

Red Bulls Hoist Emirates Cup After Draw vs. Arsenal

The Red Bulls Hoist Silverware: A Rare Sight
It wasn't the prettiest cup victory you'll ever see, but somehow the New York Red Bulls managed a 1-1 draw against Arsenal on Sunday at the Emirates Cup in London. Combined with Saturday's 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain, it was enough to earn RBNY the trophy and allow them to return home with something tangible to show for a grueling 48 hours in London.

Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez were inserted in the lineup by Hans Backe after having been rested on Saturday, while Joel Lindpere got a badly needed day off. Unlike the PSG match, however, the Red Bulls were on the back foot throughout the afternoon on Sunday. Wayward finishing and sloppy play by Arsenal in the final third kept the game close, though to be fair it should have been well out of reach for New York by the hour mark. Robin Van Persie gave the Londoners the lead from an open header just before half time (Rafa Marquez where were you?), but the Gunners were unable to make their superiority count over the next half hour, squandering chance after chance.

As the exhausted Red Bulls soldiered on with mostly the same team that had gone the full 90 against PSG, Arsenal brought on wave after wave of quality substitutes, including names such as Andrei Arshavin and Carlos Vela. When New York countered with bargain basement Stephen Keel,  RBNY fans could be forgiven for assuming that all was doomed. Under siege, the Red Bulls showed some occasional ability on the break, but attacks fizzled out before amounting to anything substantial.

As the match wound down, with an Arsenal victory virtually assured, the Red Bulls mounted one final attack. Following some ping-pong in the Arsenal penalty area, Henry collected the ball smartly at the top of the 18-yard box, before laying a pass onto the overlapping Roy Miller. The Costa Rican left back reacted quickly and directed a ball toward goal that inexperienced Arsenal youngster Kyle Bartley could only turn into his own net. Suddenly it was 1-1, and all the Red Bulls needed to do was keep their defensive shape for five minutes and hold on for victory.

So how should we view this trophy as RBNY fans? Following the ignominious US Open Cup defeat and league struggles, is it something to celebrate or something to dismiss out of hand? It's really up to each individual, but personally, after the copious helpings of negativity dished out this season, I choose to say thank you very much and move on. Is it a meaningful trophy? No. But it is something to feel good about in a season that hasn't offered New York fans many feel good moments. Moreover, after watching the MLS All Stars get tonked by Manchester United, it's heartening to see an American club go toe to toe with a few of Europe's elite and not totally embarrass themselves.

Now Thierry Henry and company travel across the Atlantic - and across the North American continent - for a massive away game against RSL at Rio Tinto on Saturday. If they can capitalize on their new found confidence and carry their defensive organization over to league matches, the Red Bulls' mediocre season could still yield some reward. If they return from London exhausted and listless all bets are off. As the summer friendlies wind down, it's time to separate the men from the boys in MLS. The Red Bulls need to decide where they stand.

Our UK correspondent Glenn Williams was in attendance at the Emirates and will be filing a report in the coming days. Until then, enjoy.
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