Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
HARRISON, NJ — In their first match at home since June 1, the New York Red Bulls finally looked like they were back in their comfort zone.
Tim Cahill and Jamison Olave made their return to the lineup and the Red Bulls used goals from Fabian Espindola and Jonny Steele to defeat the Houston Dynamo, 2-0, on Sunday afternoon in front of a sold out crowd of 25,483 at Red Bull Arena.
Goalkeeper Luis Robles rebounded from last Sunday’s poor performance with his fifth shutout of the season.
“It was a huge result, very important after the two league games that we lost to get back to a winning mentality against a solid side,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said after the game.
The victory snapped a three-match winless slide for the Red Bulls, while the Dynamo’s loss extended their own winless skid to seven matches.
The Dynamo were missing injured midfield stars Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia, which left their attack virtually non-existent for most of the day. And though they had a midfield duo of Ricardo Clark and Adam Moffat in central midfield, the Red Bulls seemed to bypass them with ease. Thierry Henry had two one-on-one opportunities with the goalkeeper in both halves, but over dribbled the first chance and poked the second one just wide of the Dynamo goal.
Despite going into the locker room without a goal in the first half, Cahill was of sound mind that a goal would come soon enough.
“I knew in good time that we would score,” Cahill said. “I felt confident from the start and I felt that we had the upper hand.”
After wasting multiple chances, the Red Bulls finally made full use of an opportunity in the 60th minute. Midfielder Eric Alexander fed Espindola into space with a great through ball, racing on goal and calmly scoring past Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall to give his side the lead.
“I said to Fabian yesterday that he was going to score, I told the manager too,” Cahill said. “He’s a really important player that does so much extra work and doesn’t really get the plaudits for it. He’s a great footballer, he’s a player that every team needs. When he gets his goal today it’s the icing on the cake.”
The goal was preceded by a Warren Creavalle miss in front of goal, as the Dynamo just couldn’t find their front men Giles Barnes and Will Bruin in enough good positions. Hall kept the score tight with a terrific double save in the 79th minute on Red Bulls substitute Peguy Luyindula and Henry.
“We’re getting the ball, we’re getting wide, we’re possessing real well, we’re just not having that killer instinct in the box,” Bruin said of the day’s performance. “We need to get that back.
There was nothing Hall could do in the 88th minute, as Henry found a wide-open Steele on the left side of the box, finishing with aplomb into the top corner to ensure the Red Bulls all three points.
“I’m glad Johnny (Steele) got the goal for all the hard work that he does,” Petke said. “It’s not very flashy, but he’s a hard worker and he was rewarded for his work.”
It was just the third league match in the month of June for the Red Bulls due to a quirky part of the MLS schedule, but despite that, the Red Bulls as a whole felt that the game was very good because it helped them get back to basics.
“The mindset we had tonight was to match Houston’s intensity,” Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty said. “They’re always a team that battles really hard, so we just had to match their intensity and then our quality players and our skill and talent shined through today.”
Added Cahill: “I thought it was really important because we needed to bring back some stability to the team, a bit of shape, discipline, and the game plan today was to keep our shape.”
An airtight defensive performance helped the Red Bulls win their fifth match at home, but according to Henry, it was Alexander’s performance that made all the difference.
“I think for me the key today was Alexander,” Henry said. “He turned every time he had the ball, that is a key in football. Every time he had the ball he tried to turn and go forward. He unlocked the game with his passing.”
As the Red Bulls now prepare for this Thursday’s match at Dicks Sporting Goods Park against the Colorado Rapids, Cahill may have summed it up best when commenting on the team’s mindset after the victory.
“When you win those aches and pains don’t hurt so much,” Cahill said. “I was playing with a smile on my face today. I was relaxed.”