Henry Watch – New York Red Bulls 2 Seattle Sounders FC 2
July 15th 2012 – MLS Regular Season
Vs. Seattle Sounders FC (A) @Red Bull Arena.
NEW YORK RED BULLS – 4-1-2-1-2
Gaudette; Barklage, Miller, Marquez, Holgersson; McCarty; Lade, Lindpere; Henry; Le Toux, Cooper.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC – 4-4-1-1
Meredith; Johansson, Burch, Parke, Ianni; Evans, Fernandez, Alonso, Rose; Rosales; Johnson.
A return to regular action for Thierry Henry was scuppered again last week as he sat out the Red Bulls 2-0 defeat in New England. Despite another dent to their title hopes they remain a contender for the playoffs at the very least.
Henry’s return in this fixture would be supplemented by the addition of fellow French marksman Sebastien Le Toux. The experienced striker, who was a trialist with Bolton Wanderers earlier this year, was traded from Vancouver Whitecaps on Friday with Dane Richards going in the opposite direction. The decision to sacrifice a first team regular like Richards and replace him with a proven scorer at this level is seen as a proactive move to add goals to a side whose free scoring start has tailed off with Henry’s fitness.
Although he will offer goals, Le Toux’s addition doesn’t address the problem of creativity in the Red Bull’s squad. So much of the early season success was based on Henry’s goals or his assists for Cooper. The absence of Henry doesn’t only withdraw his goals, something Le Toux will be expected to cover, but also removes their primary creative force.
Backe opted to start with an experimental line up here. Le Toux partnered Cooper up top but Henry was withdrawn to play at the point of a diamond midfield. The Red Bulls management clearly gambling that Le Toux and Cooper would thrive from the service Henry could provide from a deeper role.
This week’s opponents would be buoyant from yet another success in Cup Football. Their remarkable record was extended in midweek when they breezed past Chivas and into their fourth successive cup final; having won the Open Cup for the past three seasons.
Arsenal fans might remember that Freddie Ljungberg played for Seattle for a year after leaving West Ham. Their most recognisable current player is US International Eddie Johnson who rejoined the MLS at the start of this season after a lengthy spell in Europe where he turned out for Fulham, Cardiff and Preston in England.
Backe’s experimental formation didn’t seem to click early on. Henry’s attacking instincts meant that he wasn’t dropping to cover in midfield in the way a specialist in this position might. This left too big a gap and led the Red Bulls to attempt to switch from defence to attack too quickly, continually relinquishing possession as they did so.
Seattle looked most likely with Eddie Johnson’s movement causing problems for an exposed Red Bulls back four. Dax McCarty worked tirelessly in the New York heat but often had too much space to cover in the midfield gulf.
On 16 the Sounders eventually made one of their attacks count. Johansson put in a fantastic cross from the inside right position. The ball floated perfectly over the head of Barklage and landed on the foot of Alvaro Fernandez. The Uruguayan had ghosted in from the left and volleyed expertly past Gaudette.
Shortly after falling behind RBNY lost Rafa Marquez to his troublesome calf. The introduction of Wilman Conde was accompanied by a tactical change. New York switched to a more traditional 4-4-2 with Henry joining Cooper up front, Le Toux switched to right wing whilst Lindpere came inside to partner McCarty.
The re-jigged lineup paid immediate dividends. Kenny Cooper drove a powerful shot at Meredith who could only parry as far as the six yard box where Henry and Le Toux closed in. The new boy arrived first and placed first time past the sprawling keeper. 1-1.
At the end of the first half Henry felt, with some justification, that he should have had a penalty. As he pulled off to the back stick he rose to volley back towards goal. Before he could get full contact, the right arm of Alonso appeared to push the ball off his foot and out for a corner. Henry was mystified but trudged off to take the corner.
The corner from Henry found Holgersson whose header cannoned back off the bar.
Pressure from the Red Bulls continued into the second half. Henry continued to cause problems and set up the industrious Lade with an inch perfect pass. The young midfielder should have struck it first time but took a touch and couldn’t sneak the ball inside the near post.
Eventually the pressure told as Joel Lindpere latched onto Brandon Barklage’s pass and pulled a fine strike inside the near post. 2-1.
The lead didn’t last long. As soon as they had conceded Seattle introduced Colombian Forward Fredy Montero. Within five minutes he’d pegged New York back with his fifth of the season.
The closest either side came to winning the game was from two Henry corners. Firstly McCarty, one of the smallest players on the pitch, rose to head unsuccessfully at goal before the game was rounded off with another missed effort, this time from Roy Miller.
The new formation, which tried to shoehorn three strikers into the side, didn’t suit Henry. He is clearly New York’s most creative player but asking him to occupy a deeper role full time is far different to him being able to roam deep and supplement the midfield when he chooses.
When the formation was altered we saw a more fluid New York. It’s not only Cooper who relishes the movement of Henry but also the likes of Lindpere and Lade who can overlap when the captain pulls off and leaves space to exploit.
Henry is clearly getting back up to match sharpness and the oppressive heat on the afternoon wouldn’t have helped but the signs were there that he will still perform if Backe can select the team that suits him. The question is now whether he can retain fitness to play regularly in the run in or whether the introduction of Le Toux was as a safeguard against anticipated future absences.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR NYRB?
Only one win in seven games is a disappointing run however they have two more home games this week and will hope to rack up some more points. Eastern Conference leaders Real Salt Lake were battered 5-0 by San Jose Earthquakes this weekend so New York actually closed the gap at the top to four points.
Backe will need to think how he best utilises his rich pool of striking talent. It would seem clear that throwing all three into the same team isn’t likely to work so whether he returns to a 4-4-2 and leaves either Cooper or Le Toux on the bench or asks Le Toux to persevere out wide is yet to be decided. Backe certainly hasn’t been shy to try new formations this season so we will see what he has up his sleeve on Wednesday.
ELSEWHERE IN THE MLS…
David Beckham continued his good form since being snubbed by Team GB as he contributed two goals to LA Galaxy’s 5-3 win over Portland Timbers. The second was a trademark free kick but the first was a stunning strike worthy of the man in his prime. Also among the goals was Robbie Keane although the less said about that the better.
The race for the Golden Boot is now getting away from Cooper and Henry as Chris Wondolowski bagged a hat trick in San Jose’s destruction of Real Salt Lake. Wondo now has 17 for the season. Cooper follows on 11 whilst Henry is back on nine.
July 18th 2012 – MLS Regular Season
Vs. CHICAGO FIRE (A) @Red Bull Arena.
Further Reading: An insightful interview with Henry in The New York Times.