"I think he should have done that after ten games into the season. He scored two today, he missed five."
The press corps that had gathered around Thierry Henry laughed. It was an hour after the final whistle in the Red Bulls' 4-2 win over Montreal Saturday night. With a two goal performance, Bradley Wright-Phillips tied - and then broke - the club's single-season scoring record, set by Juan Pablo Angel's 19 goals in 2007. Surely, the captain was cracking wise?
"You guys are laughing, but it's true," the captain continued to deadpan. "I told him, he's going to have to make sure that when he has one, it's a goal. Because maybe in one game, he's only going to have one. It's not every game where you're going to have five opportunities, or six, or seven. And he's scoring some of them. I'm not having a go. I'm saying, you look for how you can improve, and I keep on telling him, 'you should already be on 35, 40 goals'. I'm not even joking."
Henry's impersonation of a father upset with an A- grade may seem extreme, but buried in the not-having-a-go-ness of the gripe lies a seed of truth. Despite the result, the game represented so much of what the 2014 campaign has become: struggles against weak teams, Henry carrying the team, the offense bailing the defense out, and the league's leading scorer perhaps not being enough to get this team into the playoffs.
When it comes to weak MLS teams, you'd be hard pressed to find one worse than the Impact. They've sat in the basement of a weak Eastern Conference nearly all year, and have failed to win on the road even at this point in the season. So naturally, they took the lead in the first half with their only real chance. Dilly Duka jogged down the left wing on a counter, was given too much space by Chris Duvall, and slipped a near post shot past Luis Robles. NY's offense failed to capitalize on any of its chances, so the team trudged into the locker room having conceded first for the fifteenth time this year.
With the team's defense so arbitrarily fragile, it came time for Thierry Henry to once again save the day. His two goals - the first a header on an Eric Alexander cross, the second a curling bouncing shot from distance - corrected the scoreline to a 2-1 lead for the home team.
With Henry so focused on providing service this season, it seemed like he suddenly remembered that he enjoyed scoring goals. He had more shots than any game since April, and at one point tried to chip Evan Bush from 40 yards out. But the assists would still come, with a perfect through ball sending Bradley Wright-Phillips through for an easy goal and buying the team some breathing room.
It wouldn't last long. The defense would again concede five minutes later, allowing Andres Romero to streak downfield on a counter. With no pressure, he got a beautiful curling shot off from the top of the box that Luis Robles could do nothing about to bring Montreal back into the game.
With ten minutes left, the game became more end-to-end with both sides chasing an additional goal. The collective sigh of relief wouldn't come until stoppage time, when Wright-Phillips ran into the box on a Peguy Luyindula pass and put a far post shot in to not only put the game to bed, but to claim the Red Bulls' single season scoring record.
"[Bradley]'s on fire right now," Dax McCarty offered after the game. "This is a magical season for him. He's a humble guy. He deserves it. He deserves everything that comes his way. He works his ass off defensively, he does everything the coaching staff asks of him. I couldn't be happier for him."
The win could have helped push the Red Bulls away from a pack of Eastern Conference teams fighting for playoff spots. But with New England and Columbus both victorious on Saturday night, the Red Bulls remain in fifth place, just one point above the red line. September will be the ultimate test for this club, as seven games in twenty-two days will make or break their postseason hopes.
Attention turns to the CONCACAF Champions' League next, with the Red Bulls hosting CD FAS on Tuesday night in Harrison. They then travel to RFK Stadium to take on bitter rivals D.C. United on Sunday, who have left their miserable 2013 season in the past and currently lead the league.
Next Match: Tuesday, August 26, 8PM ET, vs CD FAS (TV: Fox Sports 2)