New York ascending to high bar
Thierry Henry scratched his beard and snapped at the questions as they poured in. The surly Frenchman was in no mood to talk about himself, or his beard, or even about a New York Red Bulls attack that just dropped four goals on D.C. United on Thursday night.
Henry was curt, almost angry really, but that persona has emerged just as he and his team have risen from a slow start to show the form expected of a team considered one of the best in MLS.
The latest display came in a 4-0 win against D.C. United at RFK Stadium, a venue that had a history of being a house of horrors for the team known formerly as the MetroStars.
Not this time around. Not with a motivated Henry and not with a loaded Red Bulls attack that was just too much for a young D.C. defense to handle.
D.C. United made the mistake of trying to play soccer with the Red Bulls, trying to attack and not just bunker. Previous opponents, like Seattle, Philadelphia and San Jose have kept numbers back in an attempt to contain New York’s high-powered offense. D.C., riding high off a 3-0 mauling of Toronto FC, figured it could go toe-to-toe with New York at home.
D.C. learned quickly that this is a far different New York team than the one D.C. teams have been beating for years.
New York dominated possession and shredded the D.C. defense on the strength of great wing play and Henry’s clinical finishing. Teemu Tainio was a rock in the middle yet again while New York’s wide players overwhelmed the flanks.
This was the type of performance expected of the team most likely to pose a real threat to an unbeatable-looking Real Salt Lake side.
So why was Henry so serious after the match? His struggles in the season’s opening weeks led to criticism from both fans and the media, something that has clearly bothered Henry, as evidenced by his angry celebration when he finally scored his first goal of the season last week. This week, he scored twice, and celebrated with his teammates, but his attitude after the match was that of someone still upset with being so quickly labeled as a flop in the making.
The reality is Angry Henry has been a much better Henry, and perhaps the criticism he’s so upset about has actually lit a fire under a player who looked lethargic and ineffective early in the season. He credits his recent success with simply feeling better physically, but you can sense that he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder, and the result is a motivated and dangerous Henry.
Three goals in two matches, and two Red Bulls blowouts later, Henry won’t have to worry about having his ability questioned anytime soon, and New York’s early offensive struggles look like a thing of the past. Now, instead of concerns about a mis-firing offense, the Red Bulls biggest issue seems to be finding playing time for three forwards who could all be starting.
Luke Rodgers got the nod ahead of Juan Agudelo for a second straight match and was once again active and dangerous. Agudelo came off the bench late and stated his own case for a return to the starting lineup with a jaw-dropping goal.
D.C. United didn’t come away with points, or even a goal, but did earn respect from New York for really trying to go at them, and the reality is D.C. had as many chances as New York. Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe, as well as Henry, praised D.C. for playing well, and Henry’s most gracious post-match comment was stating D.C. didn’t deserve to lose 4-0.
That was little consolation for a young team that was just blown out at home. Charlie Davies took some of the blame upon himself for not doing better against New York’s defense, but it was pretty clear that there was plenty of blame to go around.
Ultimately, the reality of Thursday night’s match was that the Red Bulls are a talented and experienced group starting to play up to their potential, while D.C. United is a talented, but young team, still prone to inconsistency and the mistakes that young teams tend to make.
D.C. will improve as its young players mature. As for New York, the latest blowout victory simply keeps the bar set high for the most expensive team in MLS, a team that is good enough to pose a very real challenge to Real Salt Lake’s title as strongest team in MLS.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.