HARRISON, N.J. -- Not often is the match itself merely the backdrop for a different focus of fans and journalists, but that was clearly the case tonight in New Jersey.
Although the match between Red Bulls and D.C. United may be one of the best rivalries in MLS, the impending transfer of Thierry Henry to Harrison was clearly the main talking point of the evening. The humdrum draw between the two Eastern Conference clubs was an afterthought with the appearances of NBA star Steve Nash at halftime and RBNY Sporting Director Erik Soler before the match to discuss Henry's impending move.
Red Bull fans may crave for silverware, but the squad’s first victory of the Atlantic Cup since the Metrostars claimed the trophy in 2003 will be forgotten as Thursday’s announcement becomes nearer.
The 16,239 fans that entered Red Bull Arena likely exited disappointed in the match’s quality of play and general lack of excitement. Opportunities were elusive and turnovers far outnumbered incisive or even decent passes. The lone threatening chance materialized when Juan Pablo Angel fired a Diego Forlan-esque free kick from distance that forced Troy Perkins to parry over the D.C. United crossbar. Besides that moment, the in-form Colombian was unable to tangibly affect the match’s outcome. Substitutions by Hans Backe and Curt Onalfo accomplished little in altering the game’s complexion and both seemed to realize that a draw was inevitable.
The consensus in the New York locker-room was that D.C. United are an improving side and that in a tight, defensive match, the outcome was fair. Red Bull manager Hans Backe’s opinion on the match didn’t stray far from that idea.
“They are a team who in the last three or four games, defensively, they’ve done very well,” said Backe. “So we couldn’t make a difference or break them down, so it was a rather boring nil-nil game.”
Goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, who was barely bothered on the night, backed his manager’s description.
“We were really looking forward to getting a win, but it’s better than losing,” said Coundoul. “The fact that we got one point and are still in the race for a playoff spot make it a deserved draw.”
D.C. United was similarly content with the point won away from home in what manager Curt Onalfo described as “a great stadium.” Onalfo reiterated Backe’s thought that his club is gaining strength as the season progresses.
“In our last 10 games, we’ve gotten results. We can’t walk away from games without points.”
The Red Bulls now must be prepared for two pivotal moments for the course of not only their season, but also their franchise. The signing of Henry has been documented, but next Saturday’s match in Columbus cannot be overlooked.
After both clubs drew tonight, the Crew remains two points in front of the Red Bulls with a game in hand. A defeat for New York would seriously dampen their efforts to claim the Eastern Conference title. Rookie defender Tim Ream is well prepared for the trip to Ohio and wants to avenge their earlier season loss.
“We go into every game, even on the road, looking to win. We don’t go into the game looking for ties. We have to come out better than we did tonight possession-wise and just take it to them and do what they did to us a couple weeks ago.”
Those hoping for the rumored French striker to debut for the Red Bulls in the important match-up will be disappointed.
“We don’t want to throw him out there in an away game against Columbus totally unprepared,” said Soler. “That would be unfair to him and unfair to the team. I think it’s better to wait and get him into the squad.”
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