The New York Red Bulls had a plan, and it all came out right on Wednesday night as the team advanced past FC Dallas.
While the Red Bulls have leaked goals at times this year, the team seems to have righted itself in time for the playoffs. Similarly the FC Dallas squad that was scoring for fun in the early part of the year was relying on defense and the occasional moment of brilliance to chip out results.
In the end, New York's back line held firm against Dallas' pacey attacking core, and managed to pave the way for a 2-0 victory.
"They're a hard team to break down when they're in the lead," FCD coach Shellas Hyndman said.
Joel Lindpere eploited lax marking in the box to tip in a Mehdi Ballouchy cross and Thierry Henry added the decided deep into injury time to set up a date with the LA Galaxy and eliminate Dallas. But the win was built on the foundation of rock-hard defending.
"Obviously they have three guys who are lighting fast," Red Bulls defender Tim Ream said after the match. "You have Brek (Shea) and you have (Marvin) Chavez and you have Jackson playing that top striker. We knew coming in that those were their key guys. To keep them in check we had to keep (Daniel) Hernandez in check because he distributes to them so well. So, we knew we had to weather the first 10-15 minutes of the game and once we did that we’d get more of the ball and then be able to play the way we wanted to play and then create chances"
New York's plan to keep Hernandez in check was simple enough. Striker Thierry Henry tracked Dallas' deep-lying midfielder and made passes to him from the back line difficult to come by.
Dallas' inability to cope with that tactical move by Hans Backe made life tough on the Hoops throughout the evening, as the team struggled to find the balls in behind New York's defense that Hernandez so often provides.
"That was the game plan going in," Ream said of charging Henry with controlling Hernandez. "If we can control Hernandez and the way he distributes the ball it would be a semi-easy night for the rest of the team. When (Henry is) asked to do that kind of thing he does it great. He helps everybody out a lot."
Dallas made a similar move in the second half, moving Jackson into a position beside Ream in an effort to keep the young defender from being a safety valve for the rest of his team.
New York coped with the move well, finding more space for midfielder Rafael Marquez to get on the ball and distribute, which in turn opened up space for Joel Lindpere to push the play forward.
"It’s not too difficult with as many guys as we have who can play the ball on the ground," Ream said of adjusting to having a striker on his hip. "We didn’t do it as much in the first half, but Rafa (Marquez) usually drops back a little bit and kind of helps out on the right side. And with a striker on me constantly it kind of opens up a lane. If I move, he’s going to move so I can open up lanes for other guys. It’s the little things. If they make an adjustment you can make an adjustment on the fly, and having Rafa be able to drop back and play balls from deep and even (Stephen) Keel now stepping up and making passes out of the back is definitely going to create a problem."
New York will now move forward to face the Los Angeles Galaxy, and Ream seemed confident that his team's defensive form would be up to the challenge of facing the top team in the league.
"Obviously we’ve only lost one in our last six or seven, so you know, we’re playing decent and at least getting the goals when we need them and getting good defensive performances," he said. "At this time of the year that’s the key, playing good defense."
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