New York Red Bulls jumped to fourth place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference Sunday with a 4-1 win over misfiring Colorado Rapids at Red Bull Arena.
Captain Thierry Henry and strike partner Kenny Cooper punished sloppy turnovers by the Rapids’ makeshift midfield to give the hosts a 2-0 lead inside six minutes. Henry added a third goal from another gift in the second half. Cooper wrapped up the scoring in the final minute after Omar Cummings had grabbed one back for the visitors.
The win eases the pressure on Red Bulls Head Coach Hans Backe after his side’s anemic performances at F.C. Dallas and Real Salt Lake. There is still much work to be done. Colorado instigated their own downfall rather than being outmaneuvered and outplayed by their opponents.
Henry’s role for the Red Bulls was indefinable in their opening defeats. The Frenchman spent much of the Dallas game stationed behind his midfield players, offensively and defensively, and remained largely isolated in attack in Salt Lake. This was the first time this season that Backe has laid out his preferred 4-4-2 style he wants to impose on the game.
Cooper’s home debut for New York also marked his first start since joining the club in January. His role was to occupy Colorado’s central defenders with his physical presence while Henry drifted around and behind the front line.
Colombian defender Wilman Conde debuted in central defense. Former Rapid Stephen Keel dropped to the substitutes’ bench. Mexican designated player Rafael Marquez returned in central midfield after his three-game suspension for triggering a melee following New York’s play-off loss to Los Angeles Galaxy last October.
Rapids’ first-year Head Coach Oscar Pareja was forced to shuffle his midfield due to captain Pablo Mastroeni’s injury absence and Jeff Larentowicz’s suspension. The shape remained 4-2-3-1 with Ross LaBauex leading the midfield triangle of Wells Thompson and Jaime Castrillon.
Cheap Turnovers Cost Colorado
This game was effectively over before many of the fans had taken their seats. LaBauex panicked in the third minute when Joel Lindpere pressured him near the right touchline. The Chicago-born midfielder’s misplaced pass fell straight to Henry on the edge of Colorado’s penalty area.
The Frenchman shifted the ball to his left side to prevent Drew Moor from making a challenge and fired his shot low into Matt Pickens’ near post from close range.
Castrillon was next to cough up possession in the midfield with a loose ball on six minutes and again the Red Bulls punished Colorado’s sloppiness. Marquez found Henry in the hole between midfield and attack. The former Arsenal man slipped a through ball into the penalty area for Cooper. This time Cooper shifted the ball to his right to avoid the covering Moor and steered his low angled drive inside Pickens’ far post.
Red Bulls Keep Rapids At Arms Length
The game was a pretty balanced affair thereafter. New York shaded possession and attempts on goal. Pickens touched the ball 47 times compared to 43 touches for Red Bulls rookie Ryan Meara.
Dane Richards’ indecision saw him lose a shooting chance on 22 minutes after Dax McCarty found him on the right of the penalty box. Pickens saved low from Cooper one minute later after Lindpere outfought Kosuke Kimura down the left to set up the former Dallas and Portland Timbers striker.
Colorado forced some free kicks and corners at the other end. Meara showed great awareness of when to catch, when to punch and when to stay on his line. The former Fordham University stopper made a vital save low at his right post on 32 minutes to keep out Castrillon’s header from Brian Mullan’s inswinging free kick. The youngster’s decisiveness, along with the strength and positional sense of Conde, gave the Red Bulls a rare look of defensive solidity and confidence that bettered their opponents.
Colorado’s back line was breached again on 55 minutes by a third giveaway. Henry threw up his arms in frustration after McCarty failed to hoist a quick free kick over the Rapids’ defense. He need not have stressed. The visitors didn’t heed the warning and seemed unsure whether to track Henry’s next run forward or step up to catch him offside. They did neither. Conde’s eventual punt found Henry in splendid isolation and he sauntered into the penalty box before sliding his shot into Pickens’ left corner.
Changes Too Late For Colorado
Pareja brought on forward Quincy Amarikwa for LaBauex on 65 minutes and also sent on center-back Tyrone Marshall for Thompson. Stand-in skipper Moor pushed into a flatter midfield as Pareja changed to a 4-4-2 formation.
Cummings bagged a consolation goal on 77 minutes after Castrillon caught Marquez dallying in midfield. Amarikwa forced a save from Meara two minutes later after bursting in front of Jan Gunnar Solli to volley Cummings’ cross on target.
Cooper completed the scoring in the final minute. Left back Roy Miller linked with Henry down the left flank and fired a low cutback to the near post. Cooper guided the ball beyond Pickens from close range for his third goal of the season.
This was “almost” a must-win game for the Red Bulls, said Backe in his post-game press conference. New York got off the mark for the season, but the performance lacked the midfield inventiveness required for a title push.
The difficulty level of this game for Colorado was already high. The players are adjusting to a new manager and new formation, two experienced midfielders were absent, and the Red Bulls needed to kickstart their season in their home opener.
Individual errors undermined Pareja’s plans within the first six minutes.