If last Sunday afternoon’s opening day festivities and fan enthusiasm at Red Bull Arena in Harrison New Jersey is a gauge as to whether soccer in the New York/New Jersey area is here to stay, then we’re in for a long haul.
The air at New York Red Bull Arena was decorated red and white with flying confetti against the backdrop of flags from the countries of players represented on the Red Bull team; then there was an energetic rendition of the USA national anthem further animated by fireworks during the singing. The fans, numbering 21,024, took the cue and completed the pre-game festivities with loud chants of “let’s go Red Bulls! Let’s go Red Bulls!”
Moments later, on the cool afternoon with temperatures around the mid-40 degrees, the 2012 home season was under way against the undefeated Colorado Rapids and it was over to former French international and Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry and company, and they did not disappoint.
In the first six minutes of play, both Red Bulls forwards scored; Henry intercepted a back pass by Ross La Bauex in the third minute and scored, and at the six-minute mark, the Frenchman fed scoring partner Kenny Cooper for the second tally and the Red Bulls (2-1, 3pts.) were off and running to a 4-1 victory, its first win of the season in three tries. The loss was Colorado’s (2-1, 6pts.) first.
Clearly, there was a marked improvement from the two road losses at FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake. The Red Bulls’ 2-0 halftime lead gave impetus to the chants, which continued as the players took the field for the second time. The scoring continued and the same actors performed: Henry registered his second goal of the game and second of the season in the 54th minute and his 20th goal as a Red Bull, while Cooper, in his first start as a Red Bull, got his second of the game and third on the season in the 89th from a cross by the overlapping left defender Roy Miller.
The change was evident first in the Red Bulls defense as Colombian international Wilma Conde immediately made his presence felt with his on-field leadership; the central defender brought calm and composure to the New York defense and made the rest of his teammates better.
Swedish defender Markus Holgersson, who was so shaky in his first two MLS games, seemed composed, and rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara got his first MLS win and had four saves in the process. It was Conde’s lofted pass over the Rapids’ defense that sent Henry in on goal for his second tally.
The Rapids, though, soiled Meara’s scoring sheet when Jamaican international Omar Cummings benefitted from Mexican International Rafael Marquez’s mistake in front of the home team’s goal and scored from 20 yards in the 77th minute for his first goal of the season.
The confidence permeated the team; midfield play was much better, though still lacking a creative spark, and the overall aggression last Sunday afternoon, instigated by the enthusiastic fans, led to Colorado’s early mistakes.
The Rapids were without captains and midfield duo Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz, which caused constant distortions in the team’s shape. LaBauex’s back pass, which led to New York’s first goal, was a result of a lack of midfield support; there was no one in sight to help LaBauex and this led to the pass back to goalkeeper Matt Pickens. The Rapids looked a disorganized bunch who lacked leadership.
The Red Bulls will host the Montreal Impact in its second home stand on Saturday, March 31 at 4:00 p.m.; Montreal (1-1, 3pts.) is in its first MLS season.
In other MLS games last weekend, the Seattle Sounders knocked off the Houston Dynamo, 2-0; San Jose topped Toronto FC, 3-0; Columbus Crew beat the Montreal Impact, 2-0; New England Revolution got its first win, over Portland Timbers, 1-0; Chicago handed Philadelphia its third loss in as many games with a 1-0 victory; Chivas USA got past Real Salt Lake, 1-0; Kansas City keeps rolling as it defeated FC Dallas, 2-1; and the Vancouver Whitecaps and DC United played to a goalless draw.
Trinidad And Tobago Lose
The Trinidad and Tobago men’s Under-23 team is on the verge of missing the summer Olympics in London this summer after a devastating 7-1 loss to Mexico in its CONCACAF Olympics qualifier at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA. Friday night; the Junior Soca Warriors, needing a win in their second game, managed a 1-1 tie against Panama on Sunday.
The result revealed a big gap between Caribbean youths and the top teams in Central and North America; against Mexico, the Trinidadians had problems to keep possession of the ball for long periods in the game. The Trinidadian defense kept the Mexican attacks at bay for the first 20 minutes of the game, but eventually broke down and made way for the Mexican onslaught.
Caribbean youngsters need more exposure to top-level competition to build confidence and to be able to hold their own in international contests. The tactical approach to the game has to be more positive; Trinidad failed to pressure Mexico in their half and allowed the Mexicans to come out of their half of the field uncontested. Trinidad defended too deep in front of their goal and created many problems for themselves. The Junior Soca Warriors were scheduled to play Honduras in the last group match.