Henry, Espindola lead Red Bulls past Toronto, 2-0
HARRISON, N.J. (AP)—Thierry Henry scored in the first half and Fabian Espindola added a goal on a wild play with 10 minutes left, leading the New York Red Bulls to a 2-0 victory over Toronto FC on Saturday night.
The Red Bulls (14-9-6) took over sole possession of first place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings. New York, which has five games remaining, began the day tied with both Montreal and Sporting Kansas City, but the Impact lost to Columbus and Sporting was off.
Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke was pleased with the outcome.
“I don’t think it was pretty,” Petke said. “But at the end of the day, we’ll take the points. You can see the overall attitude of this team has changed, the willingness to jump on board. Especially Thierry. It’s great to see him score goals two weeks in a row. That’s phenomenal.”
Henry also scored in the Red Bulls’ 4-1 win in Houston last weekend.
Toronto (4-14-11) was eliminated from playoff contention.
The Red Bulls dominated play from the start and did not allow Toronto to get any scoring chances, as goalkeeper Luis Robles got his ninth shutout of the season. New York finished 2-0-1 against Toronto this season, and improved to 9-2-3 at home.
“Our goal before the game was to get the three points and get a clean sheet,” said Robles, who was credited with two saves. “We’re getting to the end of the season and it’s all about going to the playoffs. We’ve done well the last two weeks. The overall effort has been great.”
The Red Bulls broke through in the 32nd minute, when rookie Michael Bustamante, making only his fourth appearance of the season and first start, made a solid run with the ball, then made a perfect pass to the wing to McCarty. McCarty then slid the ball across to a diving Henry, who knocked it home.
Bustamante, the team’s first-round draft pick in the 2013 draft, was a little nervous after he was told Friday by Petke that he would start against Toronto.
“I was very surprised when he told me,” said Bustamante, who was credited with his first MLS assist. “I wasn’t expecting it, but I had to be up to the challenge. I had to adjust to the pace of the game.”
Bustamante said that he received a pregame pep talk from Henry.
“He told me that I had to be focused and ready, to be confident and play my game,” Bustamante said.
Petke said that he was pleased with the play of the rookie Bustamante.
“We had a situation yesterday where Lloyd (Sam) couldn’t go, so Michael had been working hard,” Petke said. “He’s our top draft pick and deserved the chance. This was the game that I liked to see him get in and I’m very happy with what he did.”
Henry’s goal was his ninth of the season and his 40th for the Red Bulls, placing him third all-time among goal scorers in the franchise’s history. Only Juan Pablo Angel (58) and Giovanni Savarese (41) have scored more.
The Red Bulls continued the pressure in the second half. Off an indirect free kick, Henry put the ball in front for tall defender Markus Holgersson, whose header was stopped by Bendik.
Newcomer Bradley Wright-Phillips, playing in just his fourth game and his third start, had two good scoring chances within a span of five minutes. His header was stopped by Bendik in the 66th and his left-footed attempt was corralled by the goalie in the 71st.
The Red Bulls then scored an insurace goal in the 80th. Espindola, who had just entered the game a minute earlier in place of Wright-Phillps, made an incredible play off a mad scramble for the ball. The ball floated six yards to the right of the goal, right along the goal line, but Espindola jumped and got his head on the ball and it managed to get by Bendik for a 2-0 lead.
“Any time you bring someone on and their first touch is a goal, it makes me look brilliant,” Petke said. “We’ll find out whether that was a cross or he was trying to score. Whatever it was, it was good to see him come on and get a goal.”
Even Henry was shocked that Espindola’s shot went in for his eighth goal of the season, trailing only Henry for the team lead.
Toronto forward Bright Dike returned to action and got one shot on goal. Dike played in only his second game of the season since being acquired from Portland, but sees some promise with his new club.
“There’s such a fine line between the good and the great in this league,” Dike said. “New York is at the top of the standings and we played them close. That’s the fine line. Everyone has bought in here and they’re working hard. We have a good team. We just didn’t get it tonight.”