The New York Red Bulls took control of their Eastern Conference semifinal with D.C. United with a comprehensive 2-0 victory in the first leg on Sunday night at Red Bull Arena. Here are three thoughts on what happened and what could be in store in Saturday’s second leg in Washington:
1. Thierry Henry provides like no other
Thierry Henry provided both New York assists. On Bradley Wright-Phillips’ opening goal, it was a deft touch-and-backheel that was dummied by Péguy Luyindula, rolling perfectly to Wright-Phillips, who slammed it home for his 30th goal across all competitions this season. On the second Red Bulls goal, Henry spotted Luyinula about 40 yards away and chipped perfectly into his teammate’s path. Luyindula did well to take the ball in stride and finish. But what stuck out was the ball Henry provided.
In the second leg, D.C. has to do a better job of shadowing Henry, who loves to float in and out of the action and lull the opposition to sleep. It is through the Frenchman's passing that nearly all of New York’s chances are created. D.C. United coach Ben Olsen may simply have to attempt to shut down the source in the second leg and challenge another New York player to provide.
With that said, Henry -- who denies there’s anything sentimental about these games, even as speculation swirls they could be his last -- is in great form. He looks like a man on a mission.
2. One goal changes everything
As bad as the night was for Olsen’s United, it’s likely that the next goal scored will be the most important one in terms of deciding which team will advance. If it’s a goal for D.C. -- especially an early goal -- then it’s game on. The Red Bulls have led before in these Eastern Conference semifinal series, including a 2-0 edge on Houston a year ago, but have not advanced beyond this round in any of the last four years. If they go up 3-0 on aggregate and score an all-important away goal on Saturday at RFK Stadium, that could be all that’s needed to wrap this up.
For D.C. to get on the board, it is going to need to show more than it showed Sunday evening in Harrison. Attackers Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola and Nick DeLeon were silent and unable to challenge New York keeper Luis Robles. Late in the match, Chris Rolfe came on and created a few problems for the Red Bull defense, but after missing significant action with a broken arm, it’s unlikely that Rolfe is ready to do more than come off the bench for Olsen. Perhaps it’s more likely that Luis Silva can return from his hamstring injury.
The Red Bulls could benefit from a wide-open game if D.C. doesn’t convert early and has to press to get back in the series. But sitting back and counterpunching can be risky.
3. Will the old building be rocking?
In the early days of Major League Soccer, there was no more daunting task than trying to go into RFK Stadium in need of a result. The D.C. supporters were loud and intimidating.
Will Saturday night be like a turn-back-the-clock night for D.C. supporters -- the Screaming Eagles and the Barra Brava? Will the field level stands rock up and down? If the fans deliver the atmosphere, the Red Bulls will need their veterans to remain composed. It will be fun to watch.
New York fans proudly celebrated their team winning the Supporters Shield a year ago and rightly so. But the ensuing playoff ouster to Houston left a bad taste in their mouths. Closing out arch-nemesis D.C. United on the road would go a long way to erasing those bad memories, as well as memories of 1996, 2004, 2006 and 2012 ... all years when D.C. eliminated New York.