Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON – After a modest start to the season, the star-studded New York Red Bulls are officially living up to the hype.
Striker Thierry Henry notched two goals and an assist, Joel Lindpere and Juan Agudelo added strikes of their own, and New York put together its second straight emphatic win with a 4-0 triumph at Atlantic Cup rival D.C. United on Thursday.
"I told you guys at the beginning of the season, once we start to score, I think we’re going to score a lot," Henry said.
Henry continued his good run of form after recording his first goal of the season during New York's 3-0 win over San Jose last week, appearing well recovered from the hamstring and Achilles ailments that bothered him earlier in the campaign.
He opened the scoring in the 12th minute. A clever touch from midfielder Dane Richards freed right back Jan Gunnar Solli, who sent in a precise service that Henry nodded past D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
The Red Bulls (3-1-2) doubled their advantage in the 38th minute when the Richards-to-Solli-to-Henry combination struck again. This time, Richards chipped to Solli as the defender made a run into the penalty area. The Norwegian's subsequent off-balance centering feed fell to Henry, who thumped it off Hamid and into the back of the net.
"I think it's a lot with the health issue definitely," Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said of Henry's improved play. "Because if you have some pain, you can't be as explosive as you want to and you can't run the way you want to."
To United (2-3-1), the match marked a step back after the team picked up a 3-0 win in Toronto last week. Although D.C. did enjoy stretches of encouraging play, the final ball in the attacking third was lacking and its defensive miscues were ruthlessly punished by New York.
"There was some good stuff out there at times," United coach Ben Olsen said. "I think we fouled up a couple plays that cost us. They're a good team. If you make mistakes, they have got guys who know how to punish you. We didn't do a good enough job on Thierry in the first half. We let him make the game."
Said Backe: "I would say D.C. is the best team we've played against so far. It sounds strange when you win 4-0, but the way [United] plays, the way they defend — we got them on the breaks, but they played well. We had trouble today."
After protecting the two-goal advantage for most of the second half, New York piled it on late. Lindpere added the third tally in the 76th minute when he collected a pass near midfield from Henry and charged through the empty space in front of him before beating D.C. midfielder Clyde Simms with a vicious cut and slotting his finish past Hamid.
Substitute Juan Agudelo then capped off the win in spectacular fashion, flicking a low pass from Solli up to himself and volleying the shot home in the 92nd minute.
It was the third assist of the night for Solli, whose overlapping runs were a thorn in the side of United left back Marc Burch throughout the contest.
"Jan Gunnar was more than active on that right-hand side," Henry said. "He created a lot for us tonight."
But not every Red Bull's contributions showed up in the box score. Teemu Tainio looked sharp for New York as he dictated possession from his deep central midfield role and came up with a few timely tackles.
Centerbacks Rafael Marquez and Tim Ream did well to deny D.C.'s strikers service, and Bouna Coundoul made his case to retain the starting job in goal ahead of the now-healthy Greg Sutton, preserving the shutout with several stellar saves.
"They're a good all-around team at every position," United defender Dejan Jakovic said. "They definitely knew what to do with the two-goal lead that they had."
One United player who came close to unlocking New York's defense was midfielder Branko Boskovic. The Montenegro international, who has struggled to find playing time this season despite his Designated Player status, entered at halftime and struck woodwork on two shots, including a 30-yard free kick.
The Red Bulls became the first team to hold D.C. striker Charlie Davies off the score sheet in this young MLS season, although he did fluster New York's back line with pace throughout his 60 minutes on the pitch. In the first half, a clear breakaway for Davies was whistled dead for an offside call television replays showed was incorrect.
For United, it was that kind of evening.
"I don't think we executed on that final ball where we could have took advantage of them a couple of times," Davies said. "I think a lot of it was my fault. I felt I didn't get involved enough. I wasn't as dangerous as I could have been, but it's just a learning curve and we're going to have those days."