Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There is no hotter team in Major League
Soccer right now than Red Bull New York.
Sure, Real Salt Lake has accumulated 15 points through six games and Sporting
Kansas City has a perfect 5-0-0 record to start the season, but the Red Bulls
are on an absolute tear at the moment.
New York was slow out of the gate, losing successive road matches to FC Dallas
and Real Salt Lake to open the new campaign in less than stellar fashion. But
the club returned to the New York metropolitan area looking to get back on
track with two straight home games.
Preparation was key for the Red Bulls at that turning point as they looked to
remedy a porous defense and tame offense that led to a pair of losses by a
combined score of 4-1.
"We certainly haven't been very sharp in our passing," Red Bulls midfielder
Dax McCarty said leading up to the club's home opener on March 25. "[That]
week, passing had been a main focus - making sure that we're keeping
possession but not just keeping meaningless possession, keeping possession in
the right areas of the field where we're going to be able to create chances."
It is safe to say that paid off.
In Red Bull Arena's first action of 2012, New York exploded for four goals in
a 4-1 defeat of the Colorado Rapids. The fortunes didn't end there as the Red
Bulls trounced the Montreal Impact, 5-2, in their following fixture, also in
Harrison, New Jersey.
But Saturday came time for another test as the Red Bulls hit the road in a bid
to prove that they were capable of winning away from home. They passed with
flying colors as three first-half goals helped Hans Backe's men dismantle the
Columbus Crew in Ohio with another 4-1 victory.
New York has played much better collectively over the three-game stretch, but
at the heart of the resurgence is Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper.
The duo has combined for 13 of the teams 14 goals on the season, 12 of which
have come in their last three outings. Henry's MLS-best seven goals this
season helped the Frenchman collect two consecutive Player of the Week awards
as well as Player of the Month honors.
Henry isn't just scoring; he is creating chances that his teammates
(predominantly Cooper) are finishing. The former Arsenal striker became the
first MLS player since John Wilmar Perez in 2001 to record at least one goal
and one assist in three straight league games.
Cooper has followed suit, trailing Henry by one goal to sit tied with Chris
Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes for second place on the scoring chart.
His early success for New York this season has made Red Bulls supporters
forget the name Luke Rodgers.
The Red Bulls deserve all the credit thrown at them to this point in the
season, but don't let it obstruct the view of the bigger picture.
Any sport that institutes a playoff system ultimately rewards teams that
finish strong. With the lengthy and rigorous regular season lasting until
October, and the playoffs culminating with MLS Cup on Dec. 1, every team is
bound to have rough patches and in-form runs.
If the Red Bulls show this kind of potency in front of goal down the stretch,
they could be well on their way to securing the first major trophy in club
history. But there is no guarantee that they can recapture the stunning form
they've displayed over the last three games at the time when it matters most.
Take Sporting Kansas City's 2011 season as a key example. Sporting began the
season with an abysmal 1-6-4 record, but it found its stride and overturned
the poor start with a late surge that catapulted the club to a first-place
finish in the Eastern Conference.
Sporting ultimately bowed out of the playoffs to another side that exemplifies
the importance of a strong finish. The Houston Dynamo concluded the 2011
regular season with a six-game unbeaten streak, an impressive run that carried
over into postseason play. The Dynamo caught fire and rode their luck all the
way to MLS Cup, where they lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Both teams embodied the mantra that playing your best in the late stages of
the season gives your side the best chance at success. New York would do well
to take notes in that regard.
That's not to say that the Red Bulls should strategically try to toil in
mediocrity until September and then begin to fire on all cylinders. That would
be foolish (though potentially comical). It simply serves to remind
spectators, players and coaches alike to keep their expectations in check.
Silverware, after all, is not awarded in April.
Fortunately for the Red Bulls, Henry does not appear to be getting carried
away with his relative success this term. He still sees plenty of room for
improvement before he can be fully satisfied.
"I thought we played a great first half," the Frenchman said after the win
over Columbus. "I don't think we played well at all in the second half. We
invited them too much into our box. They should have and could have scored two
or three goals to come back into the game, but they didn't. ... Overall, we
are happy, but personally, I'm disappointed in the second half."
Hopefully that match doesn't turn out to be a microcosm for New York's season.
The Sports Network