Frank Isola: Pin the Red Bulls loss on underperforming stars

Kenny Cooper may have missed the penalty, but the blame for New York's playoff exit lies on the team's well-paid superstars who failed once again to show up.

There was no consoling Kenny Cooper on a cold November night in Harrison, N.J. Players from the Red Bulls and D.C. United offered words of encouragement but Cooper was too distraught to listen.

"What do you say? It's life,” said Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill. “I've missed penalties in the past. I don't even for one instant blame him."

Cooper failed to convert a penalty kick that would have given the Red Bulls a second-half lead in a thrilling match they eventually lost to D.C. United 1-0. It was a shocking ending to a season that was supposed to end with Thierry Henry lifting the MLS Cup. Instead, the Red Bulls and their high-priced roster of world renowned stars is once again an off-Broadway bust.

Blame Kenny Cooper? Well, the American striker should be held responsible for a wasted opportunity. But if you want to begin blaming anyone start with the team’s two biggest players, Henry and Rafa Marquez. The tweedle-dee and tweedle-thug of MLS.

Henry, who loves to embarrass teammates by throwing his hands up in disgust when their play isn’t up to his standard, managed to nullify a goal when he was called for encroachment as Cooper buried a penalty kick. Forced to take another kick, Cooper had his shot saved by Joe Willis, who had just entered the match when goalkeeper Bill Hamid was red-carded for tripping Cooper.

NBC analyst Kyle Martino, who had a better night than Henry, wondered if Willis was aware that Cooper, who had been 10 for 10 on PKs, likes to use a stutter step before shooting. I’m not sure if Willis knew that. Martino certainly did and apparently Henry couldn’t care less because he was a good four steps inside the penalty box on Cooper’s first kick. Referee Mark Geiger had no choice but to wave it off.

"Normally if a guy on our team comes in and a defender comes in, it equalizes everything," Henry said, claiming that a D.C. United player had also encroached. "I know what actually happened."

The beauty of Henry is that even when he’s wrong he likes to blame others. In the closing minutes when Roy Miller’s free kick sailed over the goal in the final minutes Henry dropped his head in disgust. Of course, Henry could have and should have taken the free kick. But why behave like a leader when it’s so much easier to assign blame?

Which brings us to Marquez, the aging defender who managed to get himself sent off after picking up two yellow cards for two reckless challenges. The second card came just minutes after D.C. was forced to play a man down. Marquez, who clearly has no interest in playing for the Red Bulls and in MLS, walked straight into the locker room and hopefully won’t stop until he reaches Mexico.

Henry had a terrific regular season and one poor performance doesn’t change that. But for all he’s accomplished in his brilliant career, failing to win MLS Cup sticks out like a sore thumb. Henry will be back, but time is running out. Marquez should have been sent packing after he embarrassed himself in last year’s home playoff loss when he threw the ball at the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan.

Blame Kenny Cooper? That’s easy. But before you do, just remember that Henry and Marquez once played for Barcelona, where winning multiple trophies was expected. In New York, the fans of the Red Bulls are still waiting for that first elusive championship. And now they should be wondering if Henry and Marquez are the guys to deliver it.

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