Thanks to Sporting Kansas City’s 2-0 win last night against the Chicago Fire, the New York Red Bulls came into Saturday night’s home game against last place Toronto FC with a chance to draw level with the Fire in the race for second in the Eastern Conference.
After the Graham Zusi Show on Friday night, SKC clinched a playoff spot, moved closer to securing the top seed in the East, and kept the pressure on MLS points leaders San Jose. Zusi is riding a wave of confidence after impressing in his first World Cup qualifier for the U.S. on September 11th in Columbus. In that match versus Jamaica, Zusi was played as a wide right midfielder by Jurgen Klinsmann, rather than in his more accustomed position in the center of the midfield.
Injuries caused Peter Vermes to use Zusi as an outside forward and that two goal performance against Chicago made Vermes look pretty smart. Sporting opened up a five point gap on Chicago at the top of the Conference standings, and when San Jose took the field later that night they knew that Kansas City were breathing down their necks, just two points adrift, in the battle for Supporters Shield.
With that backdrop, the Red Bulls knew exactly what was at stake when they took the field on what was a beautiful night for soccer in New Jersey. Kenny Cooper headed right at Toronto keeper Freddy Hall, 30 seconds in but TFC stormed right back at them when Quincy Amarikwa, split the defense and his shot kissed off the upright.
But TFC weren’t at the Red Bull Arena just to make up the numbers, and after five and half minutes the last place visitors took the lead on a Ryan Johnson goal. And what a goal it was from the Jamaican international. Johnson took a feed from Reggie Lambe, and blasted a rocket from 30 yards that New York debutante Luis Robles couldn’t lay a glove on.
The Bulls responded well to Toronto’s challenge with recent addition Lloyd Sam impressing with some fine wing play. A long Heath Pearce pass for Lindpere earned a NYRB a corner in the 13th minute and when Markus Holgersson rose above the Toronto defense to power home Thierry Henry’s well placed corner kick, scores were level at 1-1.
Red Bulls took control, dominating possession, finally going ahead on Kenny Cooper’s 15th goal of the campaign. Lloyd did the spadework, springing Henry who drew the defense and the goalkeeper to him, before presenting Cooper with the simplest of chances.
New York played keep away after that, and were particularly dominant in the second half. Tim Cahill came close to adding to the Red Bulls lead on a couple of occasions, but the points are all that matter at this time of year. Henry made sure of those points and capped a brilliant all around performance when he teed Cooper up for the second time, and the big man buried his chance in the 88th minute for the 3-1 win.
But wait, Henry wasn’t done yet. Henry coolly chipped the keeper for a beautiful goal on what would be the last kick of the game, sending the sellout crowd of 25,000 plus into Henry! Henry! chants.
Red Bulls: Luis Robles, Brandon Barklage, Markus Holgersson, Heath Pearce, William Conde, Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, Lloyd Sam, Joel Lindpere, Kenny Cooper, Thierry Henry
Subs used:Jan Gunnar Solli for Lloyd Sam, 58 minute, Teemu Tainio for Joel Lindpere, 90 minute.
Toronto: Freddy Hall, Jeremy Hall, Richard Eckersley, Darren O’Dea(capt), Ashtone Morgan, Reggie Lambe, Aaron Maund, Terry Dunfield, Luis Silva, Quincy Amarikwa, Ryan Johnson
Subs used: Andrew Wiedeman for Luis Silva, 46 minute, Eric Avila in for Reggie Lambe, 83 minute.