Sunday, April 1, 2012

Highly Offensive: RBNY Explodes for Five in Win vs. Montreal

If The Red Bulls Win and Nobody's There to See It...?
The New York Red Bulls put in a real Jekyll & Hyde performance on Saturday, at home to the expansion Montreal Impact. After a listless first half that found them lucky to be 2-2 at the break, they scored three unanswered goals and won going away, 5-2.

The result matched their biggest single game offensive output since Red Bull Arena opened in 2010 (they also scored five against lowly Toronto FC at home last season), while the nine goals they have scored over their first two games represents their best two game stretch of production at Harrison. Thierry Henry also became the first RBNY player to bag a hat trick at the stadium (Justin Braun did it for Chivas USA in 2011). It was Henry's first three-goal game in New York, and the first regular season hat trick by any Red Bulls player since Amado Guevara in 2006.

The lopsided result hardly seemed to be a likely outcome at halftime. In fact, the question going around our Viper's Nest convo at the break was, "How the hell are we still in this?" The visitors outplayed New York over the first 45 minutes, pouncing on mistakes - and there were plenty of them - and punishing the Red Bulls. Montreal's first came from a massive error by Markus Holgersson, who allowed an easy ball to dribble through his legs, failed to recover in time and allowed the speedy Sanna Nyassi to nip in for the opener. Ryan Meara was beaten at his near post. After a fairly simple Thierry Henry header - from a Rafa Marquez cross - that eluded the grasp of Impact keeper Donovan Ricketts, RBNY found itself level again. But they would give the lead back just ten minutes later, when Justin Mapp was allowed to waltz across the top of the Red Bulls' 18-yard box and rip a low shot that once again beat Meara low and at his near post.

Just as it looked as though RBNY would trudge to the locker room trailing 2-1, they received a gift when Dax McCarty got scythed over from behind by Matteo Ferrari. Looking at the replay, Ferrari did get part of the ball, but it's the kind of ill-advised scissor tackle that would probably be given anywhere else on the pitch. Kenny Cooper, who was a workhorse all afternoon, stepped up confidently and drove the penalty home, as Ricketts guessed the wrong way.

Rafa Marquez was replaced at the break by Teemu Tainio. Whether it was an injury precaution or a manager's decision, it seemed to spur the Red Bulls into action, and they were a different team in the second half. In the 56th minute, Henry, marked closely by two defenders, swiveled neatly 20 yards from goal and blasted a low, hard shot that beat Ricketts. Suddenly RBNY players had their tails up and looking for more. They'd get another in the 72nd minute when Jan Gunnar Solli made a smart run into the box and fed the ball to the approaching Henry. The Frenchman's sublime backwards flick was right on the foot of Mehdi Ballouchy, who only had to apply the slightest of touches to guide it home. It was arguably the best goal of the afternoon.

Henry would cap his hat trick in the late stages of the match, after Ricketts spilled a shot directly into his path. There was a strong suspicion of offside, but Red Bulls fans won't grumble. It was the least TH14 deserved on an afternoon when he seemed intent on pulling his under-performing teammates up by their collars and dragging them to victory.

The Red Bulls are now 2-2, have recovered from their difficult start, and are a formidable offensive unit, with Henry in mid-season form. They travel to Columbus next weekend to take on the Crew.

The biggest disappointment on the afternoon was - once again - the meager attendance in Harrison. Saturday's crowd may have been the lowest ever for a league game at Red Bull Arena, and that's counting weekday games. Whatever Chris Heck and his marketing team are doing to get butts in seats - if anything - isn't working. The South Ward was its usual rocking self. But it's not the hardcores that the club needs to be enticing out to the stadium - they would be there regardless. It's casual soccer fans, families and the like who seem to have decided they have better things to do, if they were ever aware that the Red Bulls were playing in the first place. It's a shame. At the moment this is a team playing some exciting attacking soccer, featuring one of the world's best players in rare form. People are missing out on some good stuff.

But look on the bright side: at least it doesn't take 20 minutes to get a hot dog now.
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