Originally posted on Total MLS  |  Last updated 3/28/12

A common theme emerged toward the end of last season for New York. Every game was touted as a “must win” as the season drew on. Only two games into the 2012 season, many analysts were calling game 3 of 34 a must win, not for the Red Bulls, but manager Hans Backe’s job. The stars seemed to be aligning for NY leading up to this match. Controversial DP Rafa Marquez suspension, carried over from last season had ended. Colombian defender and former MLS All-Star Wilman Conde was finally set to return from his injury and debut for NY. Colorado would be missing both Jeff Larentowicz (suspension) and Pablo Mastroeni (injury) in the midfield. Fans and media alike felt this would be the time for NY to strike and strike big.

It wouldn’t take long for the striking to commence. Just 2 minutes into the match, Colorado’s Ross LaBauex was dribbling out of the Rapids defensive third while under heavy pressure from Joel Lindpere. LaBrauex decided to pass the ball back instead of hitting the ball up field. This proved costly as Thierry Henry intercepted the pass, drove into the box, beat Drew Moor on the dribble and put the ball in the net, on the near post beating Matt Pickens. Just over three minutes later, Henry would play the ball through for a streaking Kenny Cooper, who would also beat Moor and than Pickens. Just like that, NY was up 2 goals to nil, 7 minutes into the match.

Colorado would never really get a chance to settle in. Anytime Colorado would start to move the ball, NY would apply pressure in the right places to take the ball away or force Colorado to play the ball back into their own defensive third. NY learned to take the tactics that FC Dallas and RSL applied to them, and turned it on Colorado. Much of this has to be credited to the duo that played their first minutes for NY this season, Marquez and Conde. No one knew what to expect with either of these players. Both players had serious question marks entering the season. Could Marquez put his petty antics and cheap play behind him to once again be the maestro in the midfield he once was? Could Wilman Conde retain his 2009-2010 MLS form that had him as an All-Star and one of the most bruising, fearsome backs in the league? Both players proved to be the jolt of energy the team needed to fix the ship.

Early on in the game, you could see Marquez barking orders for players to cover a man or to apply pressure. This would often result in NY gaining possession or pushing Colorado further back down the pitch. He just made Richards, McCarty, and Lindpere not look lost on the pitch like they did in Dallas and Salt Lake. If Marquez would get fouled, he would not roll on the ground or complain to the ref a la Rafa 2011. Marquez would pop back up and issue a smart, quick restart. His play allowed Henry to stay up top and work with Copper instead of dropping deep in the midfield and having to play out.

Conde could always be seen physically challenging the Rapids attackers. There’s not one instance that you would see him leave a player with the ball unchallenged. He barked orders to his fellow defenders on who and where to mark on corners and set pieces. He would add an assist early in the second half as he launched a ball towards an onrushing Henry, splitting the sleeping center backs. Henry’s second goal came off a brilliant finish but the play was made possible by Conde’s vision on a set piece. Late in the game he was starting to get beat by speed but it being his first game back from injury, I don’t think it was the right decision to have him go the full 90.

NY’s win did not come without some mistakes. Colorado’s loan goal came off of a turnover from applied pressure. Rafa Marquez was stripped of the ball after holding onto it a little too long. The ball was fed to Omar Cummings who took a nice shot, beating Ryan Meara. Most turnovers forced by Colorado were immediately followed up by NY pressure to win the ball back. Whether it was the player who lost the ball or another Red Bull, NY would not allow Colorado to walk away with possession.

Another Cooper goal in the 89th minute would put NY up 4-1. In a play right out of the Emirates Cup tie against Arsenal, Thierry Henry would send Roy Miller into the 18yard box. Miller would run the ball to the sideline and send in a low cross towards the front post. The ball, unluckily, would go off a Colorado defenders shin, in a mangle of bodies, and into the back of the net. The goal, as of writing, is still credited to NY’s Kenny Cooper.

New York (1-2-0) next takes on expansion side Montreal Impact (0-2-1) on Saturday at home in Harrison, NJ. NY will look to carry this momentum and the support of the home crowd and gain 3 more points. Though just like the Red Bulls proves Sunday, be wary of the team in need of its first win.

(image courtesy of newyorkredbulls.com)

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