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Week 30: New York Red Bulls 1 - 0 Houston Dynamo

It wasn't a big win - just a very, very important one...

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Peguy Luyindula had both arms raised in celebration before Thierry Henry even kicked the ball.

In the 47th minute of the New York Red Bulls' third game of the 2014 season against Houston Dynamo, he watched Lloyd Sam lose possession on the right flank. He watched Richard Eckersley win it back and spring Sam on a run into the final third. He watched Sam push a cross into the six yard box. He watched Bradley Wright-Phillips time his run to take both center backs with him, then step over the ball and let it roll on to the far post - where he saw Henry appear unmarked, with the defense desperately scrambling to recover its shape.

Peguy just raised his arms and watched the captain tap in for RBNY's first (and only) goal of the game.

In that moment, Peguy was every supporter of this team: delighted and relieved in equal measure. Except Luyindula had perhaps greater cause for both emotions than most supporters, because most supporters didn't actually travel to El Salvador and play 90 tooth-grindingly awful, scoreless minutes against CD FAS. Nor did most supporters then fly from Central America to California to get trampled by the #ThankYouLandon valedictory parade.

One imagines the "Red Bull wants out" whisper campaign has penetrated the locker room, and Luyindula was in the training session on Thursday that ended with Tim Cahill in a bad mood and sparked the articles which appear to have made that mood even worse.

Furthermore, Peguy was in the thick of the awful first half of this game. If BWP had kept his shot at an empty net just a fraction lower, if Henry's free kick had dipped just an inch or two more, if Lloyd Sam had hit the net or Luyindula's head with his 45th minute effort: the Red Bulls could have been as many as three goals up by half-time.

But they weren't. Houston's most significant contributor in the first half was the crossbar of Tyler Deric's goal. It was the third consecutive match RBNY had reached the intermission without scoring; Peguy's third consecutive dose of Mike Petke's "C'mon guys" team talk - and the prior two iterations had failed to get the Red Bulls' show back on the road.

Of course Peguy was relieved when Henry scored. Everyone who wants this team to succeed was relieved.

The story tonight is a 1-0 win and guys that worked hard about it -Mike Petke (newyorkredbulls.com)

The first half suggested the fans' worst nightmare about this team was coming true: it was going cold in October just as quickly as it had heated up in September to maintain its precarious hold on an Eastern Conference playoff berth.

Certainly, it can be said that BWP has cooled off. He has set an extraordinarily high standard for himself this season, so much so that two games without a goal counts as going cold. His greatest strength - his movement off the ball - remains as good as ever. Few strikers in MLS are as good at finding space and  creating opportunities: he was credited with seven shots in this game; as a team, the Dynamo managed 15.

But BWP's other remarkable quality is his shooting accuracy. Only Robbie Keane has put more shots on target than Wright-Phillips so far this season, and Keane has license to shoot from anywhere. To date, the Irishman has taken 121 shots and put 54 on target; BWP has 51 shots on target from 98 attempts - and has converted 24.5% of his shots compared to Keane's 15.7%.

Different players in different tactical systems, of course. BWP's role for RBNY is closer to Gyasi Zardes's (23.2% scoring chance conversion rate) for LA than that of Keane. Unfortunately, in this game, BWP's accuracy was off. When the best finisher in MLS gets just one shot of seven on target, and misses a tap-in, it is fair to say he's cooled down, albeit from a temperature no other striker in the league has quite managed to reach.

Wright-Phillips has scored three hat-tricks at Red Bull Arena this season. This time around, he produced a perfect hat-trick of misses: one with his left foot, one with his right foot, and one with his head.

Fortunately, there is more to BWP's game than simply finding the net. He deserved to be credited with an assist for Henry's goal, largely because it looked a lot like he touched the ball on its way to the far post, but also because it was his movement that drew the defense away from the far post and his very deliberate step over the ball that fooled the 'keeper just enough to prevent Sam's cross from being intercepted before it reached the captain.

But the league's top scorer finished the game literally scratching his head as yet another chance was wasted.

I thought they flipped it around on us after the goal and they were very good and [we] were kind of hanging on for dear life -Dax McCarty (newyorkredbulls.com)

It wasn't BWP's night, and it could easily not have been RBNY's night.

Henry's goal prodded the Dynamo into action. For most of the second half, Houston had most of the ball. But for a timely block from Dax McCarty, who closed down Giles Barnes after he had been allowed to get in behind the defense because Armando preferred to make an exaggerated appeal for a free kick rather than stay on his feet and fight for possession, the game might have been tied.

If Barnes had scored on that attack and, later in the game, Luis Robles hadn't made just the right adjustment to save a deflected shot that seemed to have wrong-footed him, the Red Bulls would have lost.

Those sort of gut-punches have plagued RBNY all season. There could be no confidence this game was safe until the final whistle. Especially once Tim Cahill made his contribution to the match: a red card in the 88th minute.

To suggest that a player was not in the lineup because of an international call-up is both ridiculous and laughable - Mike Petke (newyorkredbulls.com)

Cahill had only been on the pitch for three minutes. Indeed, after he abandoned his fellow substitutes during a mid-second half warm up and sat himself back down on the bench, it seemed possible he wouldn't be on the field at all. But Petke eventually brought him on to relieve Eric Alexander.

Cahill's main contribution was a rash lunge at a loose ball. Boniek Garcia made the most of it, but Cahill jumped into the tackle and made it easy for referee Jair Marrufo to reach for his back pocket.

The red card was as poorly timed as the tackle that precipitated it: Cahill had suddenly been cast as an actively dissatisfied player in the build-up to the game. The team's beat reporters observed the Australian lose his cool in training, and dutifully passed on a very peculiar effort by someone within the club to characterize Cahill's entirely routine call-up to play for his country as a source of "frustration" for the team's management.

Cahill will miss RBNY's next game - against Toronto FC on October 11 - due to his international commitments, and will serve the suspension for his red card on October 19, when Columbus Crew visit Harrison.

The upshot is that it is unlikely he will play any great part in the Red Bulls' final push to make the post-season. Mike Petke has struggled to figure out a role for Cahill this season, and most recently appears to have settled on the conclusion that the Australian simply doesn't fit into the best team for the 4-2-3-1 formation, at least when most players are fit and in form.

It seems silly for RBNY to take issue with Cahill's desire to play for his country, especially as he is essentially building to the likely finale of his international career: January's 2015 Asian Cup in Australia. Next season, one suspects, the Socceroos will move away from the likes of Cahill and try to develop younger players who will represent the country in the next World Cup cycle.

But Cahill did not come to RBNY to ride the bench. If there is no place for him on the field right now, it is understandable that the club and player might be drifting apart. The man who was last season's top scorer and team MVP started the year as the presumed captain-in-waiting, a natural leader ready to step forward once Thierry Henry retires.

The selection process for tonight's game went as this: I wanted to put the 11 players out that I felt could get us a result and we got a result -Mike Petke (newyorkredbulls.com)

Henry has not retired yet, however, and has not made any formal announcement regarding his future plans. For Cahill, who arrived at this club with a proven reputation, and showed his worth in last year's Supporters' Shield run-in, to be benched for no better reason than the club has apparently forgotten how to align itself tactically to his strengths must be frustrating.

He may not stick around to see whether 2015 brings a new tactical set-up, despite the obvious fact this team is his to claim if Henry retires.

It is perhaps ironic that this should appear to be the game in which Cahill's patience with being treated as a depth option finally snapped, because this was a game in which RBNY finally looked like a team with some decent depth options.

Did I want to do this? Anytime you have to change two players...it wouldn't be my ideal situation -Mike Petke (newyorkredbulls.com)

Petke was forced to reshuffle the defense - a seemingly constant feature of this season - by Jamison Olave's suspension for yellow card accumulation and Chris Duvall's apparent need for a break after receiving a painful reminder of quite how much he has to learn at the hands of Landon Donovan in LA.

In stepped Armando for Olave and Richard Eckersley for Duvall. Armando made one clear, and nearly costly error, when he went down too easily after being fouled by Giles Barnes and gifted Houston a break. But Dax McCarty stepped in to rescue the situation. Eckersley did pretty well to handle the Dynamo's all-star left-flank combination of DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Davis.

The bar is set quite low for both players: if Eckersley avoids incurring a witless penalty, he's done well; Armando had to be benched because Petke feared he was being targeted by the league's referees. Nonetheless, both did well, and another start would not be unreasonable for either on the evidence of their most recent performance.

I'm enjoying the last little bit of the season -Richard Eckersley (newyorkredbulls.com)

RBNY may not have done enough in CONCACAF Champions League to stay in the competition, but at least the team managed to rehabilitate a few players who had fallen out of favor during the all-too-brief run in the regional tournament.

Ultimately, the Red Bulls got all they needed out of this game: three points. It wasn't enough to win a great deal of breathing space in the standings - RBNY is just a point ahead of fifth-placed Columbus and four points up on Toronto, who will play its game in hand on 10/8 (also, incidentally, a home game against Houston).

By the time TFC arrives in Harrison, RBNY could well need another three points just to stay above the red line.

The race for the Eastern Conference playoffs is likely going down to the wire. All the Red Bulls can do is continue to find ways to win at home. This latest example was far from the team's most convincing win at the Arena this season, but that in itself is encouraging: good teams can close out tight games. RBNY will need to do this a few more times this year to justify being called a good team, but it can at least say that it is not bad.

Not bad at all.