Saturday’s game away to Sporting Kansas City for the New York Red Bulls potentially showcased how the highest paid team in the league plays a must-win game. I’ve said it before and at risk of beating a dead horse, a team with the quality of the Red Bulls should not be struggling to make the playoffs. Hans Backe led his team into Livestrong Park in need of a tie to shore up a playoff spot. By far, the most important moment of the match was Thierry Henry’s red card offense.
Some thoughts after the jump…
Was it intentional? Did Henry see him? Was it retaliation for the scuffle moments earlier? Was it a yellow or a red card?
My initial reaction as a fanboy, of course, was that Kevin Stott was orchestrating a conspiracy against New York to keep them out of the playoffs. After watching the collision a few times I’ve backed down from that claim. As a player, I know I’ve done something like that on purpose multiple times, even if the intent is not to hurt the player, just a gentle little nudge behind the play to remind your opponent that you’re there. I think that was what Henry was doing. It was not an unfortunate stumble; Henry knew Espinoza was there. On the other hand, it was not malicious violent conduct, similar incidents happen in every game of soccer. What Henry was at fault for was performing his rather innocuous but purposeful act four feet in front of the referee.
Put yourself in Kevin Stott’s shoes. Consider you have the most hyped player in the Eastern Conference in front of you, do you let it slide for the sake of the game’s excitement? Or rather, do you punish a player with a history of “acting out” in MLS? Everybody involved in soccer (players, coaches, fans, writers, even officials) hates when a referee takes the spotlight away from the players and puts it on himself. That clearly happened when New York visited Portland earlier this season. You could make the argument that’s what happened on Saturday, but I don’t think so. It was a dumb move by Henry for putting himself in a position to get sent off whether the action warranted it or not.
And oh yeah, there was a game to play after that incident.
Say what you will about Henry’s conduct, but he came into this season ready to play. A player doesn’t get to the top of the MLS scoring charts without effort and persistence. Those are two qualities Rafael Marquez has not shown in any games this season. You can point to the trophies he has won at Barcelona or his leadership on the Mexican national team. But his heyday has passed and Marquez is one of Chepo de la Torre’s old dogs that needs to be let go along with Gerardo Torrado. The only positive contributions Marquez has made this season have been a few solid balls played in on free-kicks, but Lindpere or Henry or Ream or Rost could play similar balls with higher consistency. Some fans were calling for canning Henry at the tail-end of last season because he failed to produce but I wasn’t one of them because we all knew what he was capable of. The purchase of Rafael Marquez was a strange move itself. Paying upwards of $4m for a defensive midfielder who can’t tackle or a deep playmaker who can’t find passes or a central defender who can’t mark or any position on the field who doesn’t want to play hard. Marquez has clearly shown, unlike Henry last year, that he doesn’t want to be on the field for New York. When has he shown the same effort Henry showed setting up Juan Pablo Angel last season in the game at Houston? When has Marquez shown us anything?
I don’t agree with much Shep Messing says, but that guy hates Rafael Marquez in a Red Bulls jersey more than I do. And for that, I salute him.
I could go through the whole team and critique every mistake from Saturday’s game. Stephen Keel should have cleared on the first goal. Roy Miller lost his mark on the second goal. Luke Rodgers should have finished on the low cross from Lindpere. Dane Richards could learn how to play soccer instead of just running in a straight line. What we should do instead, however, is regroup for Thursday’s match at home against Philadelphia. If we win, we’re in. We could still progress to the playoffs with a tie, but the Red Bulls players need to leave everything out on the field at Red Bull Arena. Tune in to ESPN2 at 8PM to watch the gut wrenching final match of the regular season unfold.