Henry Watch – New York Red Bulls 3 DC United 2
June 24 2012 – MLS Regular Season
Vs. DC United (H) @Red Bull Arena
NEW YORK RED BULLS – 4-5-1
Meara; Barklage, Miller, Pearce, Marquez; McCarty, Solli, Lade, Ballouchy, Lindpere; Cooper.
DC UNITED – 4-4-2
Hamid; Woolard, Russell, McDonald, Jackovic; DeLeon, De Rosario, Kitchen, Cruz; Salihi, Pontius
When Thierry Henry strained his hamstring against New England in April he joined a lengthy list of casualties. The immediate outlook for the New York Red Bulls was bleak. New York faced at least a month without their talismanic forward, their best central defender in Wilman Conde and the experienced, yet divisive, Rafa Marquez.
No one would have predicted that a heavily patched up side would follow the 1-0 win over New England with a string of four victories, including clean sheets against last years’ MLS Cup contenders LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo.
The side had to be reshaped somewhat with several youngsters getting run outs and others being asked to play in different positions. Conor Lade and Brandon Barklage have performed admirably whilst regulars like McCarty and Lindpere have excelled in revised midfield roles.
Henry eventually returned to Red Bulls action in a 1-1 draw with Chivas USA at the end of May. He was unable to add to his goal tally but helped to extend the unbeaten run to five games. Since the visit of Chivas, Henry hasn’t featured and New York have slumped out of the US Open Cup, to Harrisburg City Islanders of the third tier of American Soccer, followed by a 3-1 defeat on the road in Chicago.
Henry was expected to return in midweek when New York travelled to Vancouver however this failed to materialise. Despite the continued absence of high profile players the Red Bulls managed to halt their slide when Heath Pearce grabbed a late equaliser. Pearce has fared well since he arrived in New York in late May; the result of a trade with Chivas. Red Bulls sent promising striker Juan Agudelo in the other direction but Backe obviously felt that goals were not a problem and defensive reinforcements were required given the continued problems suffered by Conde.
Red Bulls fans had hoped that the home match against fierce rivals DC United would see the return of their stricken triumvirate. Conde was missing once again but Marquez was fit enough to come back into central defence and Henry deemed fit enough to start on the bench.
This was a big game for both sides. At kick off DC sat three points clear of New York at the top of the Eastern Conference on the back of four straight league wins. A capacity crowd turned out in the hope that the Red Bulls could get the win needed to draw them level on points, but also go some way to repaying the humiliation of the 4-1 defeat inflicted in the reverse fixture in April.
The visitors raced out of the blocks with Chris Pontius giving DC the lead in the first minute. Despite the early setback New York were able to settle and over turn the deficit through two unlikely goals from Brandon Barklage. The former DC United midfielder notched in the 20th and 47th minutes and put Red Bulls in the driving seat. An afternoon of unlikely scorers was topped when Jan Gunnar Solli got forward to put New York 3-1 up with his first ever New York goal.
Perhaps more predictably DC got back in on the scoring when Pontius netted his second of the day and eighth of the season. Incredibly, five of those eight have come against the Red Bulls.
On 69 minutes Henry entered the fray. The pace at which the game had been played vindicated Backe’s decision to leave his key striker on the bench. The Frenchmen was unable to add to the scoring but did train his sights for next week with a couple of late efforts – here and here . His presence was enough to keep DC occupied at the other end and gave the Red Bulls a focus to help see out a vital victory.
Henry will be relieved just to be back on the pitch after an extended layoff. On the evidence of the two efforts he did manage he needs match sharpness; this 20 minutes will have been useful. He’s still ranked third in the goal scoring charts with nine goals, one below Kenny Cooper on 11. Both New York front men chase Chris Wondolowski of San Jose Earthquakes who leads the way with 13 goals. If Henry can rediscover the goal scoring form with which he started the season he’ll no doubt be confident of catching the current leader.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR NYRB?
A well earned three points puts New York level with DC at the top of the Eastern Conference. It is only New York’s tendency to leak goals that sees them second. Both sides have scored 31 goals this season but DC have conceded two fewer. Backe will be pleased that his side rose to the occasion and stated after the game that the first hour was the best they’d played all season. With Henry and Conde hoping to return to the starting XI imminently, New York will look to build on this win and overhaul their rivals at the top of the conference.
June 30th 2012 – MLS Regular Season
vs Toronto FC (A) @BMO Field.