Sunday, April 29, 2012

Red Bulls 1 Revolution 0: Clean Sheet Kept, Henry Lost

Safe Hands: Meara Gets a Long Overdue Clean Sheet
It was hardly their prettiest game of the year, but the New York Red Bulls somehow managed to get through a full 90+ minutes with a makeshift back line and kept their first clean sheet of the season on Saturday - a 1-0 win over visiting New England Revolution. All in all, it was a very solid performance from front to back by a RBNY starting XI studded with reserve players. The Revs, it must be said, were very poor on the day and didn't provide much of a challenge, but Hans Backe has to be pleased with the heart and determination his team showed, especially when they had their backs against the wall for much of the second half. Sadly, the win came at a heavy cost. 

Thierry Henry, who scored a simply stunning goal in the 7th minute, beating Stephen McCarthy to a long Connor Lade pass before chipping the ball over Matt Reis with the outside of his boot, would be forced to leave the came after he collapsed on the Red Bull Arena turf in the 25th minute, grabbing his right hamstring. After the game, Backe termed the injury "disastrous" and estimated that the Red Bulls would be without their leader for approximately a month.

New York has a heavy schedule in May, including away games in Los Angeles (Galaxy), Philadelphia and Montreal, sandwiched around weekday visits to Harrison by Houston and Chivas USA. Taking into account the long gap in RBNY's schedule at the end of May, there is a decent chance that Henry will not play again until mid-June. The Red Bulls will have to manage without an in-form superstar who is - in my humble opinion - simply the best player in the league at the moment, and maybe the best the league has ever seen. Juan Agudelo is rumored to be on the verge of returning from injury, but whether he is able to step in and offer a full 90 minutes is doubtful. The preseason acquisition of Kenny Cooper is looking wiser and wiser.

If the Red Bulls' players dropped their heads after Henry's departure, it was impossible to tell based on their performance. Kenny Cooper had a few good looks at goal, but Reis made a handful of nice saves in response. Dax McCarty was guilty of some errant passes in midfield (when isn't he?) but worked tirelessly all afternoon, disrupting matters in midfield and forming an effective partnership with Mehdi Ballouchy. Dane Richards continued to keep the New England defense honest, making his trademark runs down the right side and generally being a nuisance with his pace. And, most notably, Ryan Meara had a stellar game in goal, stoning Saer Sene several times and stopping Benny Feilhaber not once, but twice late on, when the Revs were hunting desperately for an equalizer.

As for the back four of Connor Lade, Tyler Ruthven, Markus Holgersson and Brandon Barklage, they did exceptionally well under the circumstances, bending at times (Sene's one-on-one, Felihaber's header) but never breaking. Barklage, in particular, had a tidy game at right back, shutting down New England attacks down his flank and doing a fine job deputizing for the missing Jan Gunnar Solli.

In the end, the full three points were vital for the Red Bulls. Looking ahead, without Thierry Henry, it's hard to see where the goals and wins are going to come from. New York is currently without the services of Henry, Tainio, Marquez, Conde, Solli, Agudelo, Keel and Miller. If Backe can get some of the his wounded back soon the team might be able to squeeze through May, get a handful of results and stay afloat in the Eastern Conference. On the other hand, one more injury - especially to the thin front line - could very well be devastating.

For now, Red Bulls fans can praise their team for a solid win, even while biting their nails over what the future holds.
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