Samindra Kunti – Thierry Henry struck a pose again last week against Toronto FC – leaning against the stanchion, head casually held down and a hand on hip, implying “You have seen me score before” – and with it started an online trend. Twitter exploded with Photoshopped variants under the hashtag #Henrying. Muhammad Ali, Star Wars, E.T., Games of Thrones and the inevitable Miley Cyrus were all thrown into the mix.
Henry seemed amused by all the #Henrying. “It’s kind of funny at the end of the day. There is nothing behind the celebration. I needed a rest . I stopped there, saw the post in Houston; saw the post the other day, was basically by it, so I stopped by it.” the New York Red Bulls´ captain said Friday after practice.
The pleasant online folly reflects the upbeat spirit permeating the Red Bulls camp at the moment. Sitting top of the Eastern Conference and on a three game winning streak, the Red Bulls have put the days of a mid-season slump and Mike Petke´s altercation with Henry behind them. Petke, intent on attacking football at the start of the season with a 4-3-3, has switched his formation to a pragmatic `get a result´- 4-4-2 and the Red Bulls have been reaping the benefits in recent weeks.
But a result against FC Dallas long seemed in doubt. At half-time the Red Bulls had not managed a single attempt on target. Carney curled a free kick, earned by Cahill, just wide and a goal-line scramble nearly had FC Dallas´s George John score a comical own goal, only for the woodwork to save John´s face. Henry skewed his shot in front of the goalmouth when teed up by Fabian Espindola.
Those were rare highlights from a half in which the Red Bulls exerted mere sterile pressure on FC Dallas´s rearguard. There was no consorted effort from Petke´s men to impose themselves: with Bradley-Wright Phillips hobbling off injured with a strained right hamstring after twenty-six minutes, the Red Bulls missed any sense of direction and purpose. There was a distinct lack of guile and offensive dynamics in the final third of the field.
It was telling that Jamison Olave stood out – for his defensive interventions in the first half. Petke acknowledged the importance of his number four after the game. “Olave has had a rejuvenation in his career. His defensive play this year has been amazing. If you want to teach a youth player how to defend one on one, you show him Olave.” said Petke.
Petke also had praise for his goalkeeper Luis Robles, who ensured the Red Bulls earned a tenth shutout this season. Robles produced a crucial one-handed save at the stroke of half-time when Fabian Castillo was left in space inside the box. “You expect a goalkeeper to come up with one huge save a game. A game changing save and Robles has done that, if not more than that.” commented Petke.
The second half was a more open -ended affair. Henry came agonizingly close to breaking the deadline, but his header, meeting Espindola´s cross from the right, sailed inches wide. Dax McCarty´s and Tim Cahill´s unwearying labour in the midfield ensured the Red Bulls dominated the better part of the second half as FC Dallas started to tire.
With the clock ticking down, Petke became visibly more nervous on the touchline. He urged his troops to push forward with wild gesticulations. The Red Bulls didn´t have their opponents in a stranglehold, but did tighten their grip on the game. It was Erick from FC Dallas, who provided relief for the hosts when he slid and steered Jonathan Steele´s cross into the back of his own net with fourteen minutes left. Eric Alexander should have put the game to bed two minutes later: face to face with FC Dallas´goalkeeper Raul Fernandez, Alexander opened his hips too soon enabling Fernandez to correctly guess the curve of the ball.
The Red Bulls continue to sit at the top of the Eastern Conference with a three-point lead over Sporting Kansas City. Petke and co travel to CenturyLink Field next week to take on Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders.
New York Red Bulls 1, FC Dallas 0
September 22, 2013 – Red Bull Arena – Harrison, NJ
MLS Regular Season
NY: Erick (own goal) 76’
New York Red Bulls (15-9-6, 51 points) – Luis Robles, Kosuke Kimura, Jamison Olave, Markus Holgersson, David Carney, Eric Alexander (Brandon Barklage 84’), Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, Jonny Steele, Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips (Fabian Espindola 32’)
FC Dallas (10-9-10, 40 points) – Raul Fernandez, Matt Hedges, Kellyn Acosta, Jair Benitez (Michel 88’), George John, Andrew Jacobson, Jackson (Mauro Diaz 65’), Fabian Castillo, David Ferreira, Erick (Kenny Cooper 82’), Blas Perez
Referee: Matthew Foerster