By DAVE MARTINEZ
Though an impressive brace by both Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper may steal headlines, the Red Bull’s dominating 4-1 victory over Colorado was more than just the story of a goal-scoring explosion.
The return of Rafa Marquez and Wilman Conde made all the difference in stabilizing and inspiring New York’s striking turnaround and helping deliver their first win of the season on Sunday.
“Do I even need to say?” Thierry Henry told the gathered media post game. “When you have Wilman at the back it gives you that confidence. He has a great left foot. And you can also see what it does when Rafa is on the field.
"Not to find any excuses for him, but it was his first game in a very long time," Henry said of Marquez. "I think you could see at the end he was a bit tired. We were all tired but I think he was a bit more than us. But obviously having him on the field and Conde, that changes a lot for us."
Rafa Marquez teamed with Dax McCarty in the midfield, developing a symbiotic relationship that enabled the returning Red Bulls DP to apply his game on both sides of the pitch. “I think we work well together,” McCarty explained during training this week. “When he pushes up, I know to cover, and when he is covering, I know I can push up.” As a result, McCarty, who had struggled mightily in the first two matches of the season, enjoyed an inspired performance backed by the steady play of his midfield partner.
“The way (Marquez) can organize the team, attacking and defending during 90 minutes, his precise passing game, when to get possession and when to go direct is very important for us,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said. The defense and distribution displayed by Marquez enabled the previously disjointed Red Bull’s midfield to create fluidity. He played a key role in stretching the field on a depleted Rapids midfield, exposing the opposition’s weaknesses while giving New York the confidence on defense to allow them to press up top. Though he was stripped of the ball leading to the Red Bull’s lone goal against, it did little to take away from a strong debut.
“I think we changed our attitude,” Marquez noted of his team’s performance. “It was about fighting for every ball, about not giving up, and today we showed that. I think everyone in their role reinforced that.”
Meanwhile, the returning Wilman Conde, who has not played a professional competitive match in nearly a year, didn’t look like he missed a beat. Coming off of surgery to his left foot and a right thigh strain, the Colombian centerback was a physical presence in the middle, surprisingly unafraid to challenge for the ball when called upon. His commanding leadership in the back spearheaded a return to form for a defensive line that desperately needed organization.
“He’s very patient, composed; I think (he helped) everyone settle down a little bit,” Backe noted. “I didn’t know anything about his leadership before he arrived. I think it was our first friendly game and just hearing him in the lockerroom before the game, just to gear people up – and of course on the pitch, he is very, very strong in the tactical work. His passing game is great.”
Conde capped off an impressive return with a left footed assist on a dead ball situation just behind the midfield stripe that split the defense, allowing Thierry Henry to sink his second goal of the match and the Red Bull’s third notch of the game.
Overall, Backe could only describe Conde’s contributions in one word. “Massive, massive.”
Will New York's good fortune continue? They will find out when they host the Montreal Impact this Saturday at Red Bull Arena. Meanwhile, share your thoughts on yesterday's match below.