There were other apocalyptic scenarios New York coach Hans Backe could have contemplated ahead of Saturday's 1-0 victory over New England, but few would have ranked higher on the list than the sight of Thierry Henry clutching his hamstring after a lengthy sprint and hobbling his way off the field during the first half.
“It's a disaster for us, of course, [with him] scoring nine goals [so far this season],” Backe told NBC Sports Network's Kyle Martino after the match.
Backe said he thought MLS' leading scorer suffered “quite a big hamstring [injury]” when he pulled up lame after deftly converting the match-winner against the Revolution. The Swedish coach theorized that his star man may miss the next three to four weeks with a right hamstring strain, though the doctors will no doubt offer a more conclusive opinion at some point over the next couple of days.
Henry's absence amplifies and exacerbates the availability problems currently facing the Red Bulls at this juncture of the campaign. Five regulars missed the game with a variety of ailments, while Rafa Márquez served the second of a three-match ban.
“It’s a very strange season,” Backe told reporters after the match. “I have never been involved, in 30 years, with a team picking up five, six, seven injuries from starters, so it’s very tricky. We will have probably three or four more games - very rough ones - until some players are coming back. One of those in Wilman [Conde] probably coming back in two weeks. I think Roy Miller and Juan Agudelo will be back in two weeks, but that means three more games without these players.”
Those absences forced Backe to name an experimental and inexperienced side against the Revolution. Although the starting XI lacked a seasoned foundation at the back, it displayed the commitment to defensive shape required to emerge with all three points and offered a glimpse into what a side without Henry might offer.
Much of the defensive improvement stemmed from Dax McCarty's man-of-the-match performance in a holding midfield role. McCarty usually operates best as a pure central midfielder, but he excelled in this match by filling the void left by the likes of Marquez and Teemu Tainio. His ardent and energetic work in front of the back four limited the Revolution's options through the middle and provided some of the cover missing in previous weeks. McCarty's performance allowed others to rise to the occasion and set about their assigned duties with the confidence provided by the additional shield in front of the rearguard.
(Note: New England, by the bye, didn't offer nearly enough to test a defensive shape underpinned by a makeshift right back, a previously out-of-form and still slow Sweden international center back and two reserves stepping into the breach to comprise the left side of the back four. Benny Feilhaber's omission from the starting XI and a startling lack of intensity in the first half made the ride far too easy before the break. Matters improved incrementally in the second stanza with Feilhaber's insertion and a couple of tactical tweaks, but the Red Bulls sat back for much of the second half without incurring any tangible punishment for their conservative approach.)
Those defensive efforts ensured the one moment of brilliance in the match would not go to waste. Henry's ninth goal in eight appearances owed much to some shoddy defensive work by the Revs, but his astutely timed run and delicately flicked finish over the onrushing Matt Reis showed why he has torn apart opposing sides with regularity this season.
Even with Kenny Cooper in the fold and with the list of walking wounded poised to shrink over the next few weeks, the Red Bulls face a difficult task as they attempt replace the irreplaceable Henry. No one player can offer the myriad qualities Henry supplies. It will take a collective effort – much like the one proffered against the Revolution, but generally more expansive in scope – to compensate for Henry's absence and procure points without him on the field.
If Saturday offered any indication, then the Red Bulls possess the necessary organization and spirit to obtain results over the next few weeks. The fixture list isn't an easy one to navigate – at Los Angeles next Saturday, home to Houston a week from Wednesday and at Philadelphia the next Sunday – for a battered side. Despite the difficult path ahead, the Red Bulls can take some inspiration from the victory against the Revolution as they try to come to terms with Henry's spell on the sideline.
Five Points – Week 8
1. Montréal punishes Portland's inability to close out matches: Bernardo Corradi (from the spot after a somewhat controversial handball decision against Steven Smith) and Sinisa Ubiparipovic scored in the final 15 minutes to hand the Impact a 2-0 victory over the Timbers at Olympic Stadium. Portland has now conceded a league-high seven goals in the last quarter of an hour this season, but that stat didn't influence Jesse Marsch's assessment of his side's performance.
“We know we can still get better, but today – and this is no disrespect to Portland because they do have a good team despite their slow start – we got a pretty good performance and a pretty dominant performance from start to finish,” Marsch told reporters after the match.
2. A glimpse into why Chris Wondolowski means so much to the Earthquakes: Wondolowski perked up a drab game with his defensive awareness after 76 minutes in San Jose's 2-1 victory at Philadelphia. Instead of slacking off on his duties, the prolific forward applied pressure to Union right back Raymon Gaddis and forced Gaddis to concede possession in the attacking third. When Gaddis did well to recover and shut off his attacking avenue, Wondolowski wisely played the ball backwards to retain possession. That pass started a sequence that continued with some tidy interplay – including a neat through ball by Wondolowski to Marvin Chávez – through the attacking half and concluded Steven Lenhart's diving opener.
3. A ounce of prevention could have avoided the ugly scenes at Toyota Park: Michael Kennedy had a couple of opportunities to call time as the clock surged past the allotted four minutes of stoppage time in Seattle's 2-1 victory at Chicago on Saturday night. By just about every measure, he should have done so. Even with Eddie Johnson's glacially slow departure from the field, Kennedy could have rightfully called time after Michael Gspurning's save on Jalil Anibaba five and a half minutes into that period.
Instead of terminating the game appropriately, Kennedy let Chicago's frustration – at fever pitch after Kennedy decided to pass on awarding a penalty kick when Osvaldo Alonso chopped down Rafael Robayo inside the penalty area in the 94th minute – boil over into Anibaba's ridiculous, two-footed challenge on Leo Gonzalez as the final whistle blew. The tackle sparked a lengthy post-match fracas that eventually ended with Anibaba drawing a red card for “fighting,” according to the league play-by-play. The better option? End the game at a natural stopping point moments earlier to avoid such an unseemly scenario entirely.
4. Cruel winner sends Toronto FC to seventh straight defeat: Jonny Steele's flair for the dramatic condemned the Reds to the record books in Real Salt Lake's 3-2 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL probably should have salted this affair away well before TFC's second half resurgence, but Steele cemented his burgeoning role as a late-match hero (he scored the equalizer in RSL's 3-2 win at Portland on March 31) and grabbed the three points with a wonderfully taken left footed drive in second half stoppage time. Several TFC players crumbled to the ground and sprawled across the penalty area after the winner to underscore their emotions upon joining the 1999 Kansas City Wizards as the only MLS sides to open a season with seven consecutive losses.
5. Not even a penalty kick can slide Robbie Keane back on track: Los Angeles midfielder Landon Donovan passed over his usual penalty kick duties to Keane in the Galaxy's 1-1 draw against FC Dallas at the Home Depot Center. Instead of coolly slotting home the spot kick Donovan won for him, Keane pushed his halting effort wide of the post and spurned the opportunity to score for the first time since March 31. Brek Shea's subsequent success from 12 yards provided a stark contrast after 61 minutes, but Galaxy substitute Pat Noonan spared Keane's blushes with his 92nd minute equalizer to salvage a point.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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