The New York Red Bulls, last Saturday afternoon, reminded us again that soccer is a game of glorious uncertainties. The Red Bulls (5-6-9), lingering in fourth place in the MLS Eastern Conference after drawing nine of its 20 games, became the first MLS team to defeat an English Premier League club, when it topped English FA Cup winner Arsenal FC, 1-0.
The sellout crowd of 25,219 watched in surprise as the Red Bulls gave the Gunners a lesson in organization, slick passing, smart moving off the ball and counterattacking. Former Arsenal star and career scoring leader Thierry Henry, now captain of the Red Bulls, turned back the clock somewhat as if to show the present Gunners how the game should be played. He was at the heart of the local team’s performance and orchestrated a number of combination plays with Wright-Phillips and with midfield Lloyd Sam and inspired the good performance.
By the 32nd minute, the Red Bulls forced one of a number of corner kicks, and Henry put this one right into the Gunners crowded goal area for teammate Ibrahim Sekagya to head downward to Wright-Phillips, who slotted the ball past Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny for his 18th goal of the season. Henry left the game in the 51st minute to a standing ovation.
“There was some very good play from us,” Red Bull coach Mike Petke said after the win. “Especially in the first half from our counter. This was one of the best-passing teams in the world and we were patient, sat back and countered to exploit. We did some good things. It was good to see some things that we need to improve on that we did well today.”
Meanwhile, Arsenal, with key forwards absent, tried to pull off the Spanish no-designated-striker trick that didn’t work. Arsenal shaped up with a four-man backline and defensive midfielder Miguel Arteta ahead of it, and five midfielders ahead of Arteta, with no target striker. The Gunners improvised as they advanced into the offensive third, with the intent that a striker will emerge as the play developed, but there was little structure, so the forays were fruitless.
“It’s our first game, I believe that physically it was a bit too high for us.” admitted Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger. “Some of the players came back last Monday and they had to play today a game that was physically too high a level. It was not ideal.”
On one occasion Arsenal almost scored when a neat combination play put midfielder Jack Wilshere in on goal, but he was stopped from point blank range by the outstretched arms of Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles, who came up with a number of spectacular saves throughout the game.
The Red Bulls had the advantage of being in the midst of its season, while Arsenal has just begun preparation for the 2014-15 English Premier League campaign. The second half saw a number of changes on both teams, which resulted in a loss of much of the quality in the contest.
GALAXY SHINE OVER SEATTLE
In one of the most exciting MLS games this season, the Los Angeles Galaxy defeated Western Conference leader and staunch rival, Seattle Sounders, 3-0, at Seattle’s CentruryLink Field last Monday night. The game was supposed to be a celebration of Sounders coach Sigi Schmidt’s 200th MLS victory, instead, the Galaxy racked up three goals in a first half rout.
Forward Gyasi Zardes (8th minute), midfielder Landon Donovan (18th) and Stefan Ishizaki (36th) tallied, with Donovan yielding two assists; they were part of an aggressive onslaught on the Sounders from the outset. Seattle couldn’t regain its lost composure, especially with defender Chad Marshall absent, as the visitors pressed forward relentlessly and dominated at midfield. The Galaxy pressure disfigured Seattle’s defensive shape and too many times caught the Sounders out of position on fast breaks.
An example of this was on the first goal when the ball was won at midfield, it was fed to Donovan, who stormed down the left side toward the goal line, and as he cut the ball back, he found an unmarked Zardes to slot home his seventh goal of the season. Los Angeles came to Seattle with a vengeance and with a play-off run in mind. Donovan had one of his best games of the season; the visitors were positive from the outset, worked hard for each other and played well together with effective combination plays.
In other MLS games last weekend, the Portland Timbers knocked off the Montreal Impact, 3-2. Diego Valeri slotted home eight minutes from time to give the Timbers victory. Host Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas played to a 2-2 tie. Sporting Kansas City beat hosts Toronto FC, 2-1, as Jacob Peterson scored the winner for Sporting’s fifth straight road win. The Columbus Crew knocked off host New England Revolution by the same score with Ethan Finlay scoring the winner
The Colorado Rapids turned back Chivas USA, 3-0, in a mid-week game behind goals from Nick Labrocca, Drew Moor and Panamanian Gabriel Torres. Real Salt Lake toppled Montreal, 3-1, as Olmes Garcia scored twice for the winners. In former San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop’s return to the area, the Earthquakes racked up a 5-1 victory over Yallop’s Chicago Fire. Shea Salinas, Atiba Harris, Chris Wondolowski, Yannick Djalo and Cordell Cato scored for the Earthquakes; Grant Ward tallied for the Fire. The Houston Dynamo announced Wednesday that it signed 32-year-old USA international DaMarcus Beasley on two-and-a-half-year contract. Beasley played for three seasons with Mexico’s Puebla. He is the only American to play in four World Cups.
In the featured game in the Caribbean Cup tournament last Sunday afternoon at the Jefferson High School Sports Complex, in Flatlands, Brooklyn, Team St. Vincent and the Grenadines and defending champion Team Jamaica played to a goalless draw. The draw was all St. Vincent needed to clinch the East Zone. In another contest, Team Trinidad and Tobago beat Team Antigua/Barbuda, 2-1. Kareem Joachim and Ian Gray scored for Trinidad, and Peter Byers registered for Antigua. Team Grenada won by a forfeit when Team Panama failed to show up for the game.