After last week's embarrassment in Philadelphia, the New York Red Bulls had two options. They could have accepted that their historical "summer slump" had begun, and fall further down the table; or they could respond as they did after their thrashing at Chicago, and start another good run. Thankfully, they appear to have chosen the latter. Goals from Fabian Espindola and Jonny Steele gave the team a convincing 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Sunday afternoon.
Espindola ending his drought, and Steele putting in a dagger. Both of the second-half goals were important in their own right. For Espindola, who was sprung by a great ball from Eric Alexander and coolly slotted past Tally Hall, it was his first goal in over two months of league play. Espindola seemed so relieved to break his scoring drought, he appeared to have forgotten how to celebrate.
Steele's goal was a beautifully worked team goal in the 88th minute that started out of nothing. When Henry couldn't get on the end of a pass aimed for him, the ball looked to be heading out for a Houston throw-in. But Kosuke Kimura decided to not let the play die, chasing after it and trapping it on the touchline. A feed back to Henry kept the play alive, and with Peguy Luyindula pulling defenders towards him, Henry played a calm through-ball to an onrushing Jonny Steele, who blasted a shot into the upper right corner to seal the game. With all those players involved in the goal, none ended up being more important than Kimura not giving up on a ball that seemed to be going nowhere - a great lesson for the team as a whole.
Olave and Connor Lade rejoining the back line. Jamison Olave was sorely missed in Philadelphia, and his return saw the Red Bulls back line holding off Houston's attack well. The news earlier this week that Heath Pearce will likely miss the rest of the season due to injury opened the door for Connor Lade to make his first start of the year. While the youngster looked fairly rusty on his distribution, his defensive presence on the left side was good, and the spot may be his until Roy Miller returns from Gold Cup duty.
Not so great passing. NY's passing accuracy was a surprisingly low 78% overall. That's a lot of errant balls that could've helped the Red Bulls maintain better control over the game in portions.
Peguy Luyindula's curse. Luyindula had at least two good chances to score after he subbed into the game, but was denied by Tally Hall on both counts. At this point we're not sure who Peguy Luyindula pissed off to condemn him to a year of blown chances and near misses, but we sure hope he apologizes soon.
Jonny Steele getting kicked in the face. Right before halftime, there was a particularly painful incident where Jonny Steele went sliding for the ball and was greeted by the boot of Kofi Sarkodie.
Steele mentioned after the game that the impact required four or five stitches during halftime to get him sown up. With a smile, the midfielder added "It’s a little sore but that’s not going to keep an Irishman down."
One of the league's weirdest scheduling quirks returns this week, as the Red Bulls travel to Colorado to take on the Rapids on the 4th of July. Across franchise history, NY has played 12 road games (and not one at home!) on the 4th of July, pulling a miserable 1-9-2 record. Their most frequent opponent on 7/4 is Colorado - they've met 4 times, the last a 1-1 tie in 2010 - making us wonder what exactly about NY vs. Colorado is extra patriotic.
Colorado are a tough team to figure out this year, unable to find any consistency or rhythm, but just a point out of playoff position after handing Montreal their first home loss of the season on Saturday. The Red Bulls have struggled with the altitude in Commerce City, with their last win at Dick's Sporting Goods Park coming in 2007. Hoping for a win may be a bit much, but if the team can keep the momentum going from Sunday's match, they could just reverse their July 4th fortunes.
Coach Mike Petke on the match: "A huge result for us in many aspects. Obviously it puts us in sole possession second place at this moment. Very important, after the last two league games which we lost, to get back up to a winning mentality against a solid side. I thought a lot of the play today. There was one thing I’m a little disappointed in: some of the passing. Our passing percentage wasn’t very good I’m sure today with certain players, but the chances we created to come out of the first half without a goal I was surprised. We did create some very good combination play going forward. So overall, obviously we’re very happy."
Tim Cahill on Espindola scoring: "I told Fabian yesterday he was going to score, I told the manager that was well. He’s a really important player who does so much extra work and doesn’t get the credit for it. Great footballer, he’s a player that every team needs because he does that extra hard work and takes the pressure of off the midfield and you need the players to work for the team and when he gets his goal today, it’s the icing on the cake. Fabian, I’m so happy for him because he’s a team player and that’s what we’re all about it doesn’t matter how long he hasn’t scored. It means nothing when you get the three points and that’s for all of us. I’ve said this time and time again, if we’re going to do anything with this football club then we don’t have to worry about all these stuff."
Dax McCarty on what changed between last week at Philly and Sunday's game: "Keeping eleven guys on the field. That helps, keeping eleven guys on the field, staying disciplined. Just starting the game off better, not conceding a goal in the first ten minutes. We always put ourselves behind the eight ball, especially on the road when we concede a goal early. I think we've noticed when we haven't conceded a goal early, and we've kind of got our footing on the game, things tend to go a lot better for us."
Thierry Henry on his man of the match: "For me, the key today was Eric Alexander. He turned every time he had the ball. That is a key in football: if you play the ball back, or you play the ball sideways, you're not going to go anywhere. But today, every time he had the ball, he tried to turn and go forward...we told him during the week, 'You are a creative midfielder. You've got to create.' And he did it, and we all know, and we all have faith in him that he can do it. He's a good football player."
Next Match: Thursday, July 4th 9:30 PM, at Colorado (TV: MSG)