Earthquakes-Red Bulls Preview
After an early hiccup on the road, things have gone according to plan for the New York Red Bulls - Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper are in a rich vein of goal-scoring form and the team has been dominant at Red Bull Arena.
That surge will be challenged Saturday night by the San Jose Earthquakes, who feature their own talented scorer in Chris Wondolowski and a defense yet to be breached on the road.
Henry, the running three-time MLS player of the week award-winner, and Copper have combined for 13 of New York's league-high 14 goals, with Henry's seven pacing the MLS. Each scored twice in a 4-1 victory at Columbus, giving the Red Bulls (3-2-0) three straight victories after opening with back-to-back road losses.
"We're in a better position than when we started out after the first two games but what you want is to improve," said Henry, who also has four assists. "I'm not the type of guy to think about what I've done. What's done is done. How can we improve, how can we play well?
"Sometimes we play well in the first half and not the second half, and sometimes we play well in the second half but not the first. I guess if you want to win, you have to rise up and play better."
The Red Bulls scored nine goals in their first two home matches, with Henry notching a hat trick in the March 31 win over Montreal. He has five goals in two home matches, and Cooper has tallied three times.
"We can't worry about them scoring," Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop told the team's official website. "We've got to make sure that, as a team, we defend correctly. We can't be isolated, especially with those two. They create their own space, they're very tricky in what they do and very sly. So we've got to make sure we know where they're at all the time."
San Jose (4-1-0) is off to the best start in franchise history and also riding a three-game winning streak following Sunday's 3-1 victory over Vancouver. Wondolowski scored two second-half goals, and the Earthquakes picked up their game after the insertion of Alan Gordon, who allowed Wondolowski to resume his traditional role of secondary forward.
Gordon, though, is unlikely to play due to a hamstring injury, which may lead to Simon Dawkins cracking San Jose's starting lineup. It also likely makes Wondolowski a target forward again, though the striker welcomes the challenge.
"I've just got to be better at it," he told the league's official website. "I know what to do. I knew where I should be and what I should be doing. I just didn't do a good job of executing."
Wondolowski has six of the team's eight goals - including three on the road - but it's the defense that's shined outside San Jose. Jon Busch has made six saves in the two shutout victories, and the Red Bulls have taken notice of the Earthquakes' improvement from last season.
"They're a much improved team," Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty said. "Their back line has done a very, very good job. They're no-nonsense players and definitely a good test for us. They'll present us some challenge we haven't seen this year."
Henry had a goal and an assist in last year's 3-0 home win over San Jose.