Red Bulls Jan Gunnar Solli notched his third goal of the 2012 season. File Photo: Vera / DailyHarrison.com
HARRISON – In the beginning of the MLS season, the New York Red Bulls became an offensive force thanks to the play of forwards Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper. The dynamic duo set records for scoring, both separately and as a pair. It enabled the Red Bulls to get off to a solid start, setting the tone for success for the rest of the campaign.
After struggling a bit offensively toward the middle of the season, RBNY went out and made some chances to their attack, adding former MLS All-Star Sebastien Le Toux in a trade, then signing Australian superstar Tim Cahill as a designated player, securing more offensive firepower as the second half of the season began.
When the Red Bulls faced the Houston Dynamo Friday night at Red Bull Arena in the second half of their home-and-home series with their Eastern Conference rivals, none of the aforementioned offensive threats found the net for RBNY, although the newly acquired Cahill did make his presence felt in his home MLS debut.
The Red Bulls received offensive contributions from unlikely heroes to secure a 2-0 victory over the Dynamo, reversing the result from a week ago and enabling the Red Bulls to climb back into first place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings.
Defender Markus Holgersson and reserve midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli each scored a second half goal with Cahill collecting an assist on each goal to register his first MLS points leading the way for the locals to improve to 12-7-5 overall. RBNY’s 41 points are good for first place, one point ahead of Houston and Sporting Kansas City._
The win enabled the Red Bulls to remain as the lone undefeated home team in MLS. RBNY improved to 8-0-3 at home, continuing their dominant play in front of the home fans.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Dynamo and ended Houston’s impressive eight-match undefeated streak.
The Red Bulls had the first good scoring chance in the opening minutes. Heath Pearce made a terrific long pass ahead to Cooper, who then found Le Toux just outside the penalty area. But Le Toux’s attempt was stopped by Dynamo defender Corey Ashe.
In the 30th minute, Henry had a golden opportunity to break the scoreless deadlock. Henry moved in on goalkeeper Tally Hall all alone after securing a pass from Joel Lindpere. But Hall got some leverage on Henry’s attempt and stopped the shot on the left side of the goal.
The match remained scoreless into intermission, but the Red Bulls had the best scoring chance after the break. In the 54th minute, Henry made a nice pass with a header that landed right at the foot of Cahill. His hard blast appeared headed toward the goal for his first MLS score, but the shot sailed over the crossbar.
Seven minutes later, it was Cahill who helped crack the scoreless deadlock. Roy Miller sliced a left-footed cross toward Cahill, who got his head on the ball. He directed the ball toward a streaking Holgersson, who touched the ball past Hall for his second goal of the season.
The Dymano had a good chance to tie the match in the 71st minute. Former Red Bull Macoumba Kandji maneuvered his way past the RBNY backline and received a solid pass from Bobby Boswell. Kandji had a great shot, but Red Bulls defender Connor Lade recovered to cut down Kandji’s angle and the shot skipped wide of the goal.
Five minutes later, Ashe took a tremendous shot from 35 yards out that clanked off the crossbar and in the 78th minute, Brian Ching’s header sailed just wide right of the goalmouth.
In stoppage time, Solli put a capper on the contest by scoring his third goal of the season. Again, Cahill started the play, finding Henry on a sprint behind the Houston backline. Henry settled the ball on the left side, then spotted Solli wide open in front for the goal that sealed the outcome.
RBNY head coach Hans Backe was pleased with the way his team bounced back after last week’s loss to Houston.
“I think overall it was a good MLS game,” Backe said. “The level of the game was quite high. But it was a well deserved win for us. We had some good chances in the first half and normally, you get quite concerned when you don’t convert on your chances. But I think we responded phenomenally after the way we played against Houston last week.”
Backe was asked why there has been such a difference with his team at Red Bull Arena and on the road. While RBNY has posted an 8-0-3 record at Red Bull Arena, the team is 0-5-2 in their last seven road matches.
“You can say that we look like a better home team than on the road,” Backe said. “We try to play the same and I think there is no difference. I think early on, we were one of the better road teams and won four matches against good teams. We have one more home game (next Sunday against Portland). Let’s see what kind of style we need to play on the road. I agree something has to be done.”
Backe is amazed at what Cahill has been able to do in such a short time.
“I think it’s a huge surprise to us that he could look so fresh after 90 minutes,” Backe said. “Normally, the plan was to break him in and he was supposed to play only 60 minutes today. I asked him at halftime if he needed help. I told him to give me a signal if he needed to be subbed. But he looked fresh for the full 90 minutes. He took his runs and he’s phenomenal in the air. When he’s top fit, it will be a huge signing for us.”
Solli can’t figure out why the Red Bulls are so dominant at home and lackluster on the road.
“I think this place is our fortress,” Solli said. “It gives us the right spirit to play with. I don’t know if the other guys feel the same, but I notice the spirit here. There’s no doubt that this was a massive win for us. We’re now back in the pole position and it’s where we want to stay.”
The other offensive hero, albeit in the form of a defender, agrees that the Red Bulls simply play better at home.
“The first half was really good and I thought maybe we should have scored early,” Holgersson said. “They played pretty well to start the second half, but we scored the first goal in a tight game. We got the pressure going and we had them under attack. It’s a good way to play at home.”
The Red Bulls return to their familiar home pitch next Sunday night, when they play host to the Portland Timbers at 7 p.m.