Week 18: New York Red Bulls 4-1 Columbus Crew

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

If they're making a Thierry Henry at RBNY highlight reel for Arsenal's visit, this game just forced a hasty re-edit...

This is what it is all about: big wins in front of the home crowd; goals and chants and that Alicia Keyes song you'd almost forgotten about because it's not on the radio much these days and only gets played at the Arena after a win, and we haven't had many of those recently.


And Thierry Henry. Despite Tim Cahill's World Cup highlight, Henry is still the biggest name in the team. The word is (Perhaps first articulated by Seeing Red? That's where I heard it, anyway.) that the almost embarrassing difference between announced attendance and apparent live humans in the stadium these days is because of the pending Arsenal game.

And Arsenal is only coming to Harrison because of Henry, just like all the folk who bought ticket packages for matches they have no intention of watching are going to turn up on July 26 to see Henry (play Arsenal).

This was a game to remind you what all the fuss is about. The difference between the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew was Thierry Henry. As the score suggests, it was a big difference.

We need our captain -Luis Robles (empireofsoccer.com)

He was a part of all four goals.

In the 17th minute, he received the ball on the left hand side of the Crew's penalty area, turned away from goal, drew two defenders toward him, passed backwards to Eric Alexander, and took off into the space behind the defense as his markers followed the ball.

Alexander feinted right, just sufficiently to keep the defenders coming at him, then cut the ball back into the area for Henry to meet with a one-touch, dinked cross into the six-yard box - and Bradley Wright-Phillips tucked the ball home.

It was Henry's 37th assist  for RBNY in all competitions, and his 35th in MLS. And BWP's 15th goal of the season. And it was 1-0 to the Red Bulls.

It makes it so much easier, playing with a guy of his class   -Bradley Wright-Phillips (bigapplesoccer.com)

The Crew got back into the game, because neither team was defending well, equalizing in the 39 minute. But Titi struck again in the 45th: Lloyd Sam floated in a cross, BWP got behind Michael Parkhurst for a perfect header which Steve Clark saved extremely well, BWP's effort to knock in the rebound was blocked by Eric Gehrig, and the ball drifted out to Henry.

He hit a lofted shot to the far side of the goal. 2-1; Henry's fourth of the season and 46th for RBNY in all competitions, lifting him past Clint Mathis for sole possession of second place on the club's scoring all-time scoring chart.


In the second half, again both sides had chances because neither was defending well, but only one side had Henry.

In the 56th minute, he popped up on the right hand side, receiving the ball from Lloyd Sam, dribbling to the edge of the area, pausing just long enough to see the back line had dropped deep and the left back was pushing out to close him down. He passed into the yawning gap between the advancing full back and the retreating center backs, and Sam picked up the ball and pushed his shot beyond Clark.

3-1; Henry's 38th assist in all competitions for RBNY.

We need our leader to be emotional...The guys just fed off it.   -Luis Robles on Henry (empireofsoccer.com)

Still the sides traded chances, still the game wasn't entirely safe. Sam picked up an Henry through-ball and chipped a delicate shot off the post in the 76th minute; Federico Higuain somehow missed with a free header in the 86th. It was still a back-and-forth game, despite RBNY taking a man advantage into the closing minutes after Bernardo Anor got sent off for petulantly kicking the ball into Chris Duvall.

Henry intervened once more, in the 91st minute. The Red Bulls were on the break; Sam chipped forward to Henry, the Crew defense was struggling to regain its shape - which meant a one touch pass to Alexander put him in the sort of space you normally don't see unless a player is exceptionally fast (Alexander is not) or offside (Alexander probably was).

The speed of the pass and disarray of the defense kept the linesman's flag down. Alexander hasn't had the most confident season in front of goal so far, but he knows where the net is, if he is allowed time and space to figure it out. Henry's pass gave him plenty of both: 4-1.

We were more than in the game. We were the aggressor...to give up the goal hurts.   -Gregg Berhalter(bigapplesoccer.com)

It was the captain's 37th assist for RBNY in MLS, which makes him the team's all-time leader in assists for regular season games. The club does play in more than one competition, however, so Henry has not hit the true lead in assist-making for RBNY. Yet.

He has 39 in all competitions, as does Amado Guevara and Tab Ramos. Henry's next assist will be the one that puts him at the top of the list.

It was a glorious performance from the captain. It will surely be remembered as one of his most complete games for RBNY. And it makes, just this once, all the other details of the match of lesser significance.

The old problems were all still there: the team's tendency to let the visitors have the first crack goal (Robles made a great save in the 2nd minute); defensive lapses (most egregiously, Matt Miazga's whiffed clearance to let the Crew in for its goal), and some curious tactical decisions.

As the match progressed, Columbus's coach, Gregg Berhalter, first lost his preferred striker - Jairo Arrieta - to injury, then pulled off sparky winger Ethan Finley for Aaron Schoenfeld. Shep Messing called the substitution "a white flag", but it looked more like the deployment of a battering ram.

Schoenfeld is 6' 4"; Arrieta's replacement, Adam Bedell, is 6' 6"; 5' 11" Michael Parkhurst was also replaced - by 6' 2" Tyson Wahl. 6' 4" Tony Tchani was already on the pitch.

I can safely say it's our worst performance of the year   -Gregg Berhalter (mlssoccer.com)

Jamison Olave and Matt Miazga are not small men, but the Crew's tactic appeared clear: RBNY was nervous at the back, and sitting deep for much of the second half; if the Red Bulls were trying to sit back, pick off passes and use the counter, the Crew would make itself a little bigger and start crashing the box.

It didn't play out that way: the Crew's crossing wasn't great, and decisions on free kicks often appeared to ignore the presence of yellow-shirted giants in the box. Maybe the big men of Columbus don't make the right sort of runs - Federico Higuain, not a tall man but certainly a smart footballer, got the best positioning on a header of the match.

Either RBNY was being naive - failing to spot the risk of playing into the revised Crew tactic - or it simply wasn't doing a good job of managing possession. Either way, Columbus had most of the ball in the second half, but didn't do a lot with it.

If the Red Bulls try the same approach against a team that does know how to organize itself to get heads on crosses - like San Jose, for example - the result could be very different.

Obviously, that was vintage Thierry   -Luis Robles (mlssoccer.com)

But that discussion is for another day. As is the question of why Peguy Luyindula cannot get into the starting lineup, but Bobby Convey can. And the question of whether Mike Petke is determined to stick with Tim Cahill as a midfielder, despite evidence to suggest he's not as good at holding on to the ball as Luyindula, and remains the team's best aerial threat up front (though BWP's work in the air is not terrible).

The team is five points off its 2013 pace (it had 28 points after 18 games last year; it has 23 in 2014) and still needs to average 1.69 points per game from its last 16 matches just to get to 50 points for the season (the presumptive cut-off for the playoffs, at least until the facts say different).

That sort of points accumulation would be good for second in the East and third in MLS at the moment. So RBNY has work to do.

But right now it doesn't matter. This game was about the work Thierry Henry can do; the work we watch this team to see. And it is good work. If this season is to be his last, and even if it isn't, this is the sort of game we - the fans - cherish.

His performance tonight...is world class. And that's why he's on the field, game in and game out   -Mike Petke (empireofsoccer.com)

Ninety minutes of Henry at his best is worth the PATH or parking hassles. It is worth the indignity of paying $13 for the privilege of watching a can of beer get spilled erratically into a plastic cup. It is worth the frustration of simply switching on the TV and wishing you were there.

When he's gone, there will be another star to replace him: Cahill is already here; the world isn't short of big name soccer players who want to hang out in New York.

Although he's done this sort of thing more often, and better, than most who have sent fans home happy for the various iterations of this team, it never quite feels like enough. When he has an off day, or even when he merely contributes to one goal instead of four, it doesn't take long for the whispers to start: he's too old, too much in Brazil, too little willing to risk his body on that wretched carpet in New England or Seattle.

And then he does what he did this week. The team wins big. Titi runs the show. And we remember: that's why he's here. And that's what we'll hope to see again, and again, until he tells us he's moving on.

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