Sunday, March 25, 2012

...And Exhale: Red Bulls Find Their Feet in Win Over Rapids

Henry: In Stellar Form
When Sunday's Red Bulls home opener against Colorado Rapids kicked off in Harrison the tension around the stadium was palpable. Winless over the first two weeks of the season, New York could ill afford a slip-up at home against a Colorado team deprived of the two main cogs of its midfield engine, Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni. The Red Bulls needed to stamp their authority on the game - and do it early - to banish any talk of a repeat of 2011.

Luckily, the Rapids were only too happy to provide an opening. With fans still filing into the stadium, Thierry Henry intercepted a horrific backpass by Ross LaBauex, held off Drew Moor, and beat Matt Pickens on his near post. Henry made it look easy, but it still took some skill for the Frenchman to switch it to his left foot and finish before Moor could close the gap and make a tackle. Just like that RBNY was up 1-0 early and any nerves they and their fans might have felt before kickoff had been eased.

Just three minutes later Kenny Cooper doubled the Red Bulls' advantage when he took a beautiful through ball from Henry, danced around Moor and placed the ball perfectly behind Pickens. It was a lovely bit of skill from Cooper, who showed great balance and composure with his finish. Both New York forwards were on the board and the match had barely started.

RBNY spent most of the remainder of the first half in a more defensive posture, conceding several free kicks in dangerous positions. Fortunately, the Rapids were  unable to take advantage of any of the chances they were given. In fact it wasn't until Jaime Castrillon's header late in the half that Ryan Meara had any difficult work to do in goal. With Wilman Conde anchoring the back line magnificently and Rafa Marquez organizing the midfield well, the Red Bulls were in very little real danger all afternoon.

Conde's lovely left footed free kick over the top to Thierry Henry in the 54th minute caught the Rapids backline napping and essentially ended the contest. Henry opened his body to apply the finish and made it 3-0. For all of the fretting over Henry's loan spell at Arsenal, the Red Bulls have clearly benefited from it. Henry looks as hungry and fit as he has at any time since his move to the Big Apple, and when he is able to play further up the pitch rather than dropping deep to collect balls, he's a nearly impossible match-up for any MLS defender. Henry's tour de force may also have had something to do with the sizable group of Arsenal supporters in attendance, hoping to see something special. Whatever the reason, long may it continue.

The only blemish on the afternoon was Marquez's unfortunate giveaway in the 77th minute. Omar Cummings, who always seems to enjoy playing against New York, took the ball in stride after it had been stolen from the Mexican and chipped Meara, who was wandering off his line. The goal ruined RBNY's clean sheet, but they never really lost control. About ten minutes later, good combination play down the left side between Mehdi Ballouchy, Thierry Henry and Roy Miller led to a fourth goal, credited at the time to Cooper, but likely to be ruled an own goal upon review. Props to RBNY whipping boy Miller for creating the chance and Cooper for putting pressure on Pickens, even if the goal eventually gets taken away from him.

All in all, it was a very tidy afternoon of soccer from a much more confident looking Red Bulls team. If they can carry this form forward to next Saturday's match against Montreal and find a way to bottle some of the positive energy for use in their upcoming travels, New York should do just fine in an exceptionally weak Eastern Conference.

The only real downer on an otherwise great day was the mediocre attendance. Granted, Colorado isn't the sexiest draw and RBNY hardly got off to a flying start in Dallas and Salt Lake City. Still, it was easily the worst-attended season opener since Red Bull Arena opened its doors in 2010. Whatever Chris Heck and his team are doing on the marketing side (from all appearances as little as possible) isn't working. Midfield sections seemed fuller than usual, but it may have been at the expense of empty areas in the corners. Hopefully the gate will increase if the team can continue to put in the kind of performance it did on Sunday.

blog comments powered by Disqus