The New York Red Bulls moved top of the Eastern Conference on Thursday night with a 4-0 thumping of DC United at RFK Stadium. Thierry Henry scored a pair of goals in the first half, Joel Lindpere added a third with just over a quarter-hour to play, and Juan Agudelo completed the rout with a lovely strike in stoppage time.
New York started brightly for a second game in succession and Luke Rodgers nearly scored another very early goal off of a low ball across the box from Henry, but Bill Hamid got to the ball just ahead of the English striker.
The Red Bulls kept up the pressure in the opening phase of the game, and after some sloppy play from both sides, New York took the lead on twelve minutes. Dane Richards flicked on Rafael Márquez's pass out of defense for Jan Gunnar Solli, who had plenty of space and time to pick out his cross from the right wing as the United fullback had been pulled centrally by Richards. Solli curled the ball from just outside the right edge of the box for Henry, who was unmarked left of the penalty spot. For the second game in a row, Henry made no mistake with his header, powering it past Hamid and giving the Red Bulls a vital early lead.
DC kept their composure despite falling behind, and were able to hold the ball more than the Red Bulls, who used the pace of their forward line to threaten the home side on the counter-attack. New York had several such moves that nearly came off, but the final ball was repeatedly barely over- or under-hit. At the other end, Charlie Davies was by far the most dangerous player for the home side, but messed up one chance one-on-one with Bouna Coundoul and did no favors for his already tarnished reputation when he dove to win a free-kick just outside of the box on DC's right wing.
In spite of some more threatening moves by United, the Red Bulls did get a second before halftime, and it came from exactly the same combination that provided the opener. Solli played a one-two with Richards and burst into the right side of the penalty area before pulling the ball back from the endline. Luke Rodgers, who had made an early run and was ahead of the ball, blocked off Dejan Jakovic and Hamid, allowing Henry to blast Solli's pull-back in from the edge of the six-yard box.
Rodgers had a shot that went just wide in the final minute of the first half, and despite DC's possession advantage (59% to 41%) they had managed just two off-target shots at the break.
The Red Bulls came out playing rather differently at the beginning of the second half: instead of letting DC attack and waiting for chances on the break, New York tried to keep the ball for longer stretches and pass through the midfield. DC was initially unable to deal with this change in approach, but gradually began to create some chances while the Red Bulls looked content to defend their lead. Fred spurned the first of these on 59 minutes, blasting a shot well wide from the edge of the box after a weak punch from Coundoul, and Branko Boskovic hit the crossbar from a free-kick just over ten minutes later.
New York wrapped the game up shortly after Boskovic crashed that shot against the woodwork. Henry, on the Red Bulls' left, received a high cross-field pass out of defense from Márquez, and then turned to play it ahead for Lindpere with his second touch. The Estonian midfielder had plenty of space ahead of him, dashed into the box and cut the ball back, away from Clyde Simms, before sending Hamid the wrong way to give the Red Bulls a three-goal edge.
Although the win was surely secure for New York at that stage, United continued to come forward, hitting the woodwork again, and forcing several good saves from Coundoul. There was also action at the other end, as Juan Agudelo nearly put in a fourth off of another great cross from Solli, only for his header to fly just wide of goal.
But just as against San Jose, New York would have its fairytale ending. Two minutes into the three added for stoppages, Mehdi Ballouchy, who had come on for Dane Richards after 66 minutes, played the ball along the right wing for Solli, who was making another overlapping run. Agudelo flipped up the Norwegian's low ball into the box and then half-volleyed over his shoulder to add a spectacular fourth for the Red Bulls and round out a humiliating scoreline for the home side.
It was a spectacular performance from the whole team and a very well deserved three points for the Red Bulls, who inflicted the worst regular season home defeat upon DC in 11 years. From the serious doubts around the team after the Philadelphia game just over a week ago, New York looks like the favorite in the Eastern Conference and perhaps even a challenger for the Supporters' Shield.
Selected Stats (NY - DC)
Possession: 42% - 58%
Passing Accuracy: 76% - 83%
Total Passes: 401 - 558
Corners: 3 - 4
Open Play Crosses: 15 - 22
Fouls: 12 - 4 (seriously?)
Shots (On Goal): 9(5) - 9(3)
The Red Bulls have a long week to follow this short one, as their next game is against Sporting Kansas City at Red Bull Arena on April 30th.