Mid-season soccer friendlies! For American fans of English Premier League sides, they're a rare chance to see their teams they support live. For MLS supporters, they're mostly a pointless midseason distraction. For over 1,000 local supporters of Tottenham Hotspur, they happily watched Tuesday night as their club battled back to defeat the New York Red Bulls 2-1 in a friendly dubbed (we're only typing this out once) the Barclay's New York Cup Powered By Under Armor.
With the match not truly meaning anything (even given the giant medals and tiny trophies), both teams came in with different objectives. The Red Bulls took the game mostly as an opportunity to give the bench some minutes they might not otherwise see, and to introduce Tim Cahill to the lineup. Tottenham, on the other hand, were still tweaking their lineups and formations with little more than two weeks to go until the start of the EPL.
The opening half had both teams as close to a starting XI as could be managed and was pretty solidly controlled by the Red Bulls. (In what almost feels like a running gag, Rafa Marquez was listed as starting but was scratched at the last minute in what the team described as "discomfort in his left calf".) Tim Cahill made his debut memorable, pulling down a long lobbed ball from Dax McCarty and racing into the penalty box before being bowled over by defender Jan Vertonghen. Kenny Cooper easily converted the given penalty to establish NY's lead within 10 minutes. Spurs found a few opportunities to test NY's defenses, but solid performances were abundant, particularly goalkeeper Bill Gaudette and his always impressive shot stopping skills.
The second half began with each team making three subs - and while Tottenham kept their most dominant players like Gareth Bale and Gylfi Sigurdsson on the field, NY removed three players central to that tight control of the first half. With Cahill, Tainio, and Conde all subbed out, the visitors continued to press, getting their equalizer when Bale beat Dax McCarty in the air on a corner kick. The goal rejuvenated both Spurs and their supporters, and the additional drive paid off quickly as Sigurdsson picked up a go-ahead goal five minutes later. Further scoring became less likely as both managers continued to make subs for the remainder of the game, although at times it felt like only Tottenham could put together an attack.
For Tottenham, there's no doubt Andre Villas-Boas was pleased with the performance and more likely to feel ready to go into the season. For the Red Bulls, many players seemed to take heart that their not-quite starting eleven was enough to hold off one of the most notorious attacks in the Premier League. And hey, no one got injured.
The Red Bulls now prepare to head to Houston to take on a streaking Dynamo side in a Friday night game (8PM ET, televised on NBC Sports Network). Having wrapped their US tour, Spurs will now return to Europe to take on Watford and Valencia for their final tune-ups before the Premier League season starts on August 18th.
Coach Hans Backe on the first half: "I think we started very well. First 15, 20 minutes, got the PK. Then they put us under pressure, but we have also - we said before the game, just focus on short defending. Because we concede too many goals. Even if we were under pressure, I don't think they picked up one 100% scoring chance. They had a free kick from Bale but otherwise the defending shape was great. So that's something we definitely can build on."
Midfielder Tim Cahill on his RBNY debut: "My main element in the first half was to help organize and have some shape, have some discipline. With Teemu being in there as well, Dax playing on the right, young Connor, Marcus, Conde - it was a really solid performance. And that's what we need to look at and that's what we need to build on. The boys were pumped coming in after the first half really happy, you know. A sense that we've still got 45, but just believing in ourselves that this is a Premier League opposition, and they couldn't break us down because of our disciplined defense, because of something that I suppose that showed in the first half. Anyone that would've watch it would've thought we played good football, we created chances, and we stopped them playing."
Goalkeeper Bill Gaudette on competition for the starting goalkeeper position: "I'm just a pro. That's what you do - you go out and just play hard every day. Every guy here expects to be playing and they want to play. So it's not something you worry about the eleven or whatever. You go out there, and if your name is on the board, you go play. And that's our job. That's what we're all here to do. When my name's on the board, I'm ready to go. You train hard every day, and you get some reward at the end."