Red Bulls veterans are as much to thank for the recent winning streak as the surprising youngsters
Give some credit to the New York Red Bulls. They won again without Thierry Henry (hamstring), Rafa Marquez (due back from suspension by injured his ankle in training), Stephen Keel (back sprain), Teemu Tainio (right knee sprain) and Wilman Conde (left groin sprain). Somehow they found a way to win starting rookies at three back line positions. I hardly imagined New York picking up three points against the Houston Dynamo with a lineup featuring a 5’5” rookie left back (Connor Lade), a center back with 225 minutes of playing time in the MLS (Tyler Ruthven), a four year pro who never seemed to latch on with D.C. United (Brandon Barklage), and a rookie keeper fresh out of college (Ryan Meara). Admit it, you didn’t expect a win either. And even if you did think they would manage to pull out a victory, you had to know it would come in another 1-0 affair.
With all these injuries and the young depth that has been asked to step up time and time again, there are a few veterans that deserve a tip of the cap. When Thierry Henry, the unquestioned leader and captain of RBNY and the league’s second leading scorer, went down against New England, it was Dax McCarty, Markus Holgersson and Kenny Cooper who were asked to hold down the fort. Judging by the nine points amassed in the standings since the injury, they have done more than hold down the fort.
A surprising contender for the golden boot, Kenny Cooper has benefitted from playing next to one of the top strikers in recent history. Despite losing a step, Henry’s service and creativity has helped Cooper turn into one of the MLS’ leading scorers early in the 2012 campaign. Coming off the bench early in the season, there had to be some questions about how he would transition to New York. If eight goals in ten games is any indication, it’s proven to be a mutually positive move. His goal against the Dynamo was vintage Cooper this year. After losing the ball in traffic at the top of the eighteen, a Houston defender attempted a weak back pass to the keeper to get the ball out of harms. Cooper out hustled everybody, sprinting toward Tally Hall and taking the sliding clearance off his body, deflecting the ball into the goal for the game’s only tally. One hundred percent from a veteran earned three points, plain and simple. The 2008 MLS Comeback Player of the Year led by his actions up front.
Then there is my favorite Red Bull to cover. Dax McCarty. The emotion he plays with and his willingness to play whatever role the team needs is impressive. Moreover, his ability to play a defensive midfield position and help cover the rookies in the back has been invaluable. It’s not too bad to believe Dax when he says that he feels like he is in the form he exhibited during the FC Dallas MLS Cup run.
How about Markus Holgersson, the freshly minted team captain in the wake of Henry’s injury. Don’t forget, the Swedish product is 27 years old but has no experience in the Red Bulls system or the grind of a Major League Soccer season. The MLS, with its constant long distance travel and turf surfaces is different than any other league in the world, and starting ten consecutive games (and playing a team high 900 minutes) doesn’t help that cause. No Stephen Keel and Roy Miller in recent weeks should have made things worse, yet, Holgersson played his best games recently. For a guy who I felt just didn’t fit early in the season, he has upped his game when the team needed him.
Yes, head coach Hans Backe has praised the inexperienced guys in the back for the team’s three consecutive clean sheets the past few weeks. But I feel too few commentators are giving credit to the veterans who have steadied the ship. This isn’t to say the rookies aren’t deserving of praise, they have stood in admirably, but this is where the experience of Holgersson, McCarty, Cooper and even Dane Richards really shines.
After wins over Houston and Los Angeles, the elder Red Bulls deserved their due too.