Henry's hamstring injury a crucial blow to Red Bulls, more Snaps
Coach Hans Backe summed up Thierry Henry's hamstring injury about as succinctly as possible during his postgame interview on NBC Sports Network following the New York Red Bulls' 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution.
Players in MLS don't come any more indispensable than Henry, so when he went down in a heap with a non-contact injury, the collective stunned silence in Red Bull Arena was more palpable than any chant over the course of 90 minutes coming out of the South Ward, where Red Bulls supporters watched an otherwise inspired performance by their battered team.
While hoping for a pass as he ran in a full sprint across the center of the field, Henry pulled up lame and immediately went down clutching his right hamstring. Henry, who still managed to impact the game by scoring its only goal, had to be helped off the field by New York's trainer and Kenny Cooper and couldn't apply any pressure to the leg while getting off the field. An injury to Henry at any time during the season would seriously hurt New York. The fact it comes at a time when Rafa Marquez is suspended and Wilman Conde, Teemu Tainio, Jan Gunnar Solli, Juan Agudelo, Roy Miller and Stephen Keel are all injured as well puts some serious pressure on the many unheralded players down the depth chart.
With five of the club's next seven matches on the road, Henry's injury could see the Red Bulls shift to a more defense-minded 4-5-1 approach. After New York's loss at D.C. last week, Backe hinted he would not get away from trying to be the aggressor at home, but he would entertain switching to a five-man midfield and reducing his lineup to one striker on the road to help disguise and cover for his back line during this period of injury and uncertainty.
With Agudelo approaching his comeback from a torn meniscus in the coming weeks and Henry down for an undetermined time period, Backe doesn't really have any option but to give the keys to Cooper up top and mix and match in his midfield while hoping for enough team-wide contributions to wade through the upcoming stretch.
Instead, New England played it by the book, lacked a killer instinct and refused to apply high pressure, something that D.C. United did to a tremendous degree in their 4-1 rout of the Red Bulls last Sunday. In addition to the tactical decision, Jay Heaps electing to keep a healthy Benny Feilhaber on the bench until halftime, despite New York's defensive frailties was another curious selection given that New York's back line brought a combined 11 MLS starts of experience into the match. Considering makeshift right back Brandon Barklage is a converted midfielder, and Connor Lade and Tyler Ruthven had each made their MLS debuts within the past two weeks, it makes the Red Bulls' effort to notch their first clean sheet of the season even more heroic and New England's hesitation to unleash the various attacking pieces en masse more questionable.
The Red Bulls deserve plenty of credit as well. Their parked bus wasn't exactly on Chelsea-at-Camp-Nou level, but it was effective nonetheless. Much-maligned Swedish center back Markus Holgersson looked as steady as he has all season, and midfielder Dax McCarty was immense in retrieving and breaking up plays, acting essentially as a fifth defender in front of the pieced-together back line. And behind all that was stellar rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara, who was coldblooded in flat-out denying Saer Sene, Lee Nguyen and Feilhaber four times as part of his five-save effort.
It should be noted, too, the Red Bulls were also a bit fortunate that Ruthven was not sent off for taking down Jose Moreno in what could have been interpreted as a last-man foul by referee Jair Marrufo 18 minutes into the match, a call that could have swayed the match drastically.
For coach Frank Yallop to dig into his bench and bring on the likes of speedster Marvin Chavez and renowned nuisance Steven Lenhart speaks volumes of the job done by general manager John Doyle to assemble his 2012 squad that is off to a Western-Conference-best 6-1-1 start after a last-minute, 2-1 road victory over the Philadelphia Union.
The last two editions of the Earthquakes were so reliant on Chris Wondolowski scoring, and when he did not, it usually meant a loss. Yes, Wondolowski has been scoring at what his become his usual rate, but he had a bit of an off game by his standards on Saturday, leaving his teammates to pick up the slack, which they surely did. Chavez fed Lenhart, a Union killer, for both goals in the final 15 minutes of their win. Consider the Rafael Baca-Tressor Moreno-Simon Dawkins trio in the midfield brings an unfamiliar element of flair to the club and the fact that starters Ramiro Corrales, Victor Bernardez and Shea Salinas are all out injured and the Earthquakes have never appeared to be at disadvantage even with that is a testament to the quality and overall versatility of the 11 men on the field in the blue and black, no matter which ones are called upon.
D.C.'s wild 3-2 win over the Houston Dynamo marked the first time in almost three years the club has won consecutive league games, a stretch that dated back to June, 2009. There's good reason for this D.C. team to be the one to snap the skid. Confidence and morale are high, and this team has learned how to overcome adversity and finish off opponents.
The past couple D.C. teams would have crumbled if they had blown leads on two occasions like United did Saturday, even more so because of the nature of Houston's second goal -- a howler by normally sure-handed goalkeeper Joe Willis. This D.C. team dug deep for another goal, though, and never took its foot off the gas pedal against one of the sturdier defenses and overall units in the league.
Contributions from unsuspecting places have also played a big role in the club's return from doormat to respectability. Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos were far from what was expected to be the first-choice forward pairing for Ben Olsen's side, yet the two have worked wonders in their roles as starters. Pontius never pouted when rookie Nick DeLeon secured his place on the left wing, and instead reinvented himself as a threat -- like he did as a rookie -- as a forward, one that thrives off off-ball runs into space. Santos, meanwhile, was supposed to be nothing more than a reserve option behind the expected Hamdi Salihi-Dwayne De Rosario tandem, but circumstances called for an alternative solution, and Santos has stepped up with six goals, good for fourth-most in MLS.
With the consecutive-win landmark checked off, D.C. can now turn its attention to another streak: It's current seven-game unbeaten run that will be put to the test in a must-see, mid-week match at red-hot San Jose.
The club that was a half of soccer away from reaching the CONCACAF Champions League final continues to defy the odds by inventing new ways to lose, and Saturday night was just the latest stomach punch to a snake-bitten franchise teetering on the edge.
TFC matched the worst start in MLS history by falling to 0-7-0 at the death, with Real Salt Lake's late-game weapon Jonny Steele doing the honors, but it was how the 3-2 match unfolded over the course of the 90 minutes that makes it an even harder pill to swallow for the Reds. Toronto had twice come back from one-goal deficits in one of the toughest venues to play for opposing teams. All while missing a penalty kick, scoring an own goal, having two seemingly good RSL goals waved off and having veteran defender Richard Eckersley yanked for a 19-year-old replacement while he publicly showed his frustration with coach Aron Winter.
The emotions displayed by TFC players after Steele's game-winning rocket showed it all: Heartbreak, disbelief, an acknowledgment of Murphy's law. If there's a silver lining, it is that TFC's next match comes out of league play -- where it has found success -- in the Canadian Championship. The only problem, though, is if TFC can't get by expansion Montreal in that two-legged tie, then the demand for heads to roll will reach its peak, and ownership might have no choice but to make drastic moves early in what is turning out to be a huge disappointment of a season.