The first match up between the New York Red Bulls and the Portland Timbers can best be described as one of the most competitive matches for the Red Bulls this season. It far exceeded all expectations and had all the elements of an all out fight till the death; penalty kicks, scuffles between players, an own goal, yellow cards, a red card and two sides both hungry for a victory.
As the Red Bulls prepared for their longest road trip this season, all the players were anxious about this match, the match that would kick off their four game away-tour. The Portland Timbers, undoubtedly one of the MLS teams with the greatest supporters seemed nothing but intimidating; a stadium that holds 18, 627 and has been sold out for every game this season.
The Red Bulls still missing a few players from the regular starting line-up including Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream, Dane Richards and Rafa Marquez, who are all still fulfilling international duties at the Gold Cup, also found themselves without the likes of striker, Luke Rodgers, who is nursing an ankle injury in New Jersey. This left Coach Hans Backe with the decision of finding an alternate striker to be paired up with Thierry Henry; his final choice, Dwayne De Rosario, and a decision that he would not regret.
For the Red Bulls, a win was the ultimate goal to pass the Philadelphia Union and secure first spot in the Eastern Conference, as well as break their 5-game unbeaten streak and give the fans a much needed win. That being said, all the Red Bulls needed to secure first spot was either a win or a tie, and the 90 minutes spent on the field granted them just that.
The first half saw the Red Bulls dominating the game with chances coming from all sides; Joel Lindpere, Dwayne De Rosario, Thierry Henry and Austin Da Luz, who found the net in the 5th minute with the first MLS goal for the 22 year old. The Portland Timbers were granted a free kick in the 25th minute; one that was deflected by Carlos Mendes. RBNY goalkeeper Sutton fighting equally hard to keep the Timbers from finding the net; doing so in a somewhat physical manner, tumbling over Horst in the 40th minute, which left the Portland striker on the floor for quite some time.
As for the formation, it was a 4-4-2, however it seemed more like a 4-5-1 with Thierry Henry dictating from the midfield, making it challenging for the Timbers to stay on top of him. As the whistle blew for the end of the first half, possession had the New York Red Bulls at 47%, although watching the game; one would definitely expect it to be higher.
The Portland Timbers came out determined in the second half, and Jack Jewsbury would turn around the game within a matter of four minutes. Jewsbury found the net in the 48th minute, to the pleasure of all the Timbers fans, it would be his fourth goal of the season, and less than a minute later the Timbers were granted a free kick, taken by former RBNY player, Kevin Goldthwaite and a goal that found the net. Merely five minutes into the second half, the Red Bulls were trailing by a goal.
Jewsbury kept on attacking, and it clarified that set pieces are one of the greatest challenges that the Red Bulls face. Greg Sutton seemed to keep making his way out of the box, and this almost granted the Timbers a third goal, but fortunately Teemo Tainio was there to save the day. Describing the intensity on the field would be an understatement, it was absolutely frantic. It seemed that all players were ready to fight till the death; the Red Bulls needed a win to break their tie-streak and the Timbers simultaneously needed a win, as they have lost their last two games on their home field.
As the game entered the final third, one could see the Red Bulls getting anxious and the play getting sloppy as well as dangerous; this best seen in the 67th minute when Sutton once again ran out of the box, and Stephen Keel was left defending the net, yet his attempt would not be as successful as Tainio’s, and instead it would result in an own goal, putting the Timbers up 3-1.
The Red Bulls were in serious trouble, but that is why fans love Thierry Henry; always calm, cool and collected, he found the net in the 74th minute, granting him his 8th goal this season, and now tied for most goals with LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan. The goal would cause tensions to flare in the net, as Lindpere went to celebrate with the ball, but met by much resistance from Portland Timbers players.
A few minutes later, the Timbers were granted a penalty kick due to Sutton’s unnecessary attack outside of the box; Jewsbury was set to take the kick, and Sutton saved the day in the same manner he did against the New England Revolution. With the Red Bulls still trailing by a goal, Backe decided to bring on young John Rooney, and take Da Luz off, and in the 89th minute, Rooney received a yellow card. Still uncertainty as to the validity of that call, but that would soon be followed by another yellow card, this time around for Carlos Mendes.
Four minutes of stoppage time was added, and the last two minutes of the match would be just as intense, if not more so than the rest of the game. The 93rd minute saw a playful scuffle between Thierry Henry and Adam Moffat, and it would be Ti-Ti’s tap on Moffat’s head that would lead to a red card for the RBNY captain; to say that this call is both unnecessary and uncalled for is yet another understatement. For now, this means that Henry will miss the match against Seattle; however RBNY may contest the call.
It would seem that Henry’s card would pay off, as the 10-man squad was granted a penalty kick in the 94th minute due to a handball in the box; De Rosario would take the kick for the Red Bulls, and would solidify his 2nd goal for this MLS season, and grant RBNY a tie with the Timbers solidifying 6 consecutive undefeated matches and their spot back on top in the Eastern Conference.
Final stats for this match would show that RBNY had 52% possession, but more concerning was the difference in fouls; RBNY 25-5 Timbers. For many watching the game, it seemed nearly impossible, and this stat simply infuriated tons of fans that made their opinions public on all social networks. The question of referees and their calls in the MLS is one that opens the door for a lengthy discussion. Even Backe, who received a fine for speaking on the matter of referees last season, chose to refrain from making any comments, stating that “I spent way too much money on that fine last time.”
All and all, Backe was content with play during the first half, but stated that the second half was sloppy, and that he was disappointed by the way RBNY gave away goals during the second half. Personally, I found both Keel and Mendes disappointing in this match; defensively the Red Bulls were weak against the Timbers but there is time before the next match. De Rosario found the game frustrating, stating that the team cannot afford to panic and that they definitely need to clean up set pieces.
If this was a taste of what is to come on this road trip, then fans are certainly in for an exciting three games against Seattle, Chicago and San Jose.
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