Sunday, September 16, 2012

Henry Puts on a Show as Red Bulls Beat Columbus

Oh Yes We Saw That!
Thierry Henry had one of his best-ever performances in a RBNY shirt on Saturday night as the Red Bulls came back from surrendering an early goal to defeat Columbus Crew 3-1 on Saturday night. The win keeps New York right in the thick of the race for the Eastern Conference crown. Surging Chicago Fire currently sits one point ahead of the Red Bulls on 50 points, while faltering Kansas City is just two points ahead on 51 points. 

Kansas City visits Harrison on Wednesday night, and if the Red Bulls can manage a full three points they will find themselves in excellent position for the stretch run, which features a second home match against Sporting as well as a visit to Red Bull Arena by the Fire. If RBNY can maintain it's 100% record at the Cathedral of Football and not falter on the road against lowly New England and Philadelphia (a tall order, especially given the Red Bulls' woeful record at Gillette), they will likely capture the Eastern Conference crown. If not, they could find themselves starting the playoffs on the road - and all bets will be off.

But back to Saturday's game. Things didn't exactly look promising for New York when, only three-plus minutes into the match, they surrendered the opener to Columbus, on a left-footed finish by Milovan Mirosevic. Only 5 minutes later, however, Rafa Marquez - who started his first match in ages - played an inch-perfect pass over the top directly to the feet of Thierry Henry, who managed to sneak behind the Crew defense. Henry took the ball down coolly and finished easily behind Andy Gruenebaum. Henry went out of his way to praise the much-criticized Marquez after the match:
"When Rafa plays, I have another option: I can go behind the defense and you saw it tonight," Henry said. "How many times you saw me dropping tonight? None. How many times you saw me going behind the defense? Every single time. It’s another dimension for me when Rafa plays."
There may be a bit of covering for a fellow superstar going on here, but it's hard to deny that the Mexican did have one of his stronger performances on Saturday night. He looked lively, energetic and focused. If Marquez can bring that same intensity for the rest of the regular season and playoffs and - crucially - stay healthy it could be an enormous boon to the team and to Henry.

Following Henry's first half goal, the Red Bulls began to dominate possession and enjoyed the lion's share of the chances, but neither team was able to find a real breakthrough until late. After Gruenebaum made an outstanding fingertip save of a goal-bound shot by - who else? - Henry, Dax McCarty somehow found the ball in traffic on the resulting corner kick and directed the go-ahead goal into the top corner. Gruenebaum, in the process of trying to keep McCarty's effort out, clanged his head into the goalpost and would have to leave the match with a nasty cut and a possible concussion, giving way to backup keeper Matt Lampson.

It would be Lampson who surrendered the third and final RBNY goal, when, from an injury time corner kick, Henry's Olimpico pinged off Lampson's far post and into the goal. There is no doubt, after looking at replays, that Henry's intention was to go for goal. With a backup keeper between the pipes, why not? If Henry's effort fails to get Goal of the Year consideration at MLS, something is seriously wrong. His fantastic left-footed effort earlier in the season against Chicago, which somehow failed to win Goal of the Week, also deserves consideration. He must love that left goalpost at the South Ward end.

The only possible gripes from gripe-loving Red Bulls fans on a Saturday night that could not really have gone much better? Well, the attendance for one, which wasn't brilliant for a team in a playoff chase. Then there's the little matter of surrendering the opening goal. Finally, Kenny Cooper had a poor game, missing a couple of easy chances to put the Red Bulls ahead before McCarty's goal.
But all in all, it was a very solid performance in a pulsating, end-to-end game against a pretty solid Columbus team that was, admittedly, deprived of its new weapon, Federico Higuain, until he was subbed on in injury time.

Finally, a word of praise (!) for the dear, departed Chris Heck, for offering some decent 2013 renewal perks to season ticket holders. My wife and I were able to enjoy the match from a Skybox as a result of early renewal, eating and drinking our way through what must have been well over $100 worth of food and beverages, and generally having a great time with other season ticket holders. 

Onward to Wednesday!
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