The Red Bulls are winning with defense, and without Thierry Henry
When Thierry Henry went down with a hamstring injury early on in last week's match against the New England Revolution, it was hard to imagine how his New York Red Bulls would go on without him.
After all, New England possessed one of the most potent attacks in Major League Soccer. And after the match, New York needed to travel across the country to take on Landon Donovan, David Beckham and the defending M.L.S. champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Red Bulls, meanwhile, had tallied their victories thanks to the dominant work of Henry and his fellow striker Kenny Cooper, while the defense had been suspect all season, and was suffering from injuries that left three rookies and a veteran import, Markus Holgersson, who had struggled mightily, manning the back line.
But since Henry went down, New York has become a shutdown defensive team. They managed to preserve a 1-0 lead from Henry's pre-injury goal to defeat New England, then held Los Angeles scoreless in a 1-0 victory Saturday night at the Home Depot Center to defeat the Galaxy before a national television audience.
New York's lone goal was reason for optimism as well. Joel Lindpere has been an extremely valuable member of the Red Bulls since joining the team in 2010. He was the team's M.V.P. in 2010, and critical to a number of wins in 2011 as well. But his poor form actually led to coach Hans Backe benching him earlier this season. A return to the Lindpere of old is critical to New York, particularly with Henry sidelined for several more weeks.
Dax McCarty's work in defensive midfield has also been enormous in the last two wins. For McCarty, the return on New York's puzzling Dwayne DeRosario trade last year, these past two matches have been the first significant return on a deal that deprived New York of a playmaker up front to feed Henry and Cooper. McCarty is undeniably talented; New York may have stumbled into finding his best role, thanks to desparation brought on by injuries.
Just how real this defensive revival is will be tested immediately. New York, having flown back across the country, will face three matches in eight days. On Wednesday night, New York hosts Houston at Red Bull Arena, then the Red Bulls travel to Philadelphia to take on the Union on Sunday. Both teams have struggled of late, but will give New York a durability test with a still-thin roster.
Help is on the way, with left back Roy Miller set to return, and striker Juan Agudelo capable of giving New York 25-30 minutes up front as he recovers from a knee injury.
And now they have the luxury of worrying about how to reincorporate the returning players without messing up this very good they've got going.
CORRECTION: Henry was injured against New England, not San Jose, as originally stated here.