A Major League Soccer team's designated players are the guys who make the big bucks, the key men who are, in theory, supposed to lead a squad to MLS Cup glory. The New York Red Bulls got a huge lift from two such players during their 3-1 victory over Columbus Crew on Saturday night. One was the team's captain, a man who continues to grow his legend while playing in the shadow of the world's greatest city. Another was an unforeseen hero, someone who could change his relationship with a passionate fan base if he continues to perform as he did on this evening.
NY Red Bulls 3-1 Columbus Crew: Answered the call
Earlier in the midweek, I suggested that the much-maligned Rafa Marquez had to prove that he had a spot in New York's starting eleven. Marquez was far from perfect in that he committed one silly foul in a dangerous spot, and he skied two balls that could still be stuck somewhere up in the lights. He may also have played his best overall 60 minutes while wearing a RBNY shirt.
Marquez is going to get plenty of deserved credit for the precise over the top ball that landed right at the feet of Thierry Henry, a perfect pass that aided Henry in leveling the match in the ninth minute. He was more than just a player firing off looping ball after looping ball out of the back. Marquez made numerous darting runs down the field, and he was also physical in both penalty areas. In short, Marquez was the player teammates such as Henry and Dax McCarty have spoken about throughout 2012, one who truly was a boss in the midfield and the back. If he can stay healthy and motivated, Marquez could prove to be New York's most important player of the current week.
NY Red Bulls 3-1 Columbus Crew: Leader
I suggested in my match preview that New York wouldn't lose on Saturday because, if for no other reason, Henry wouldn't allow them to do so. Henry may not have been the best overall player on the field after 78 minutes, but nobody deserves man of the match honors more than does the New York captain who was clear about one thing during his televised post-match interview: He's already looking ahead to Wednesday's showdown with Sporting KC.
Roughly 70 minutes after Henry buried his equalizer, he strolled toward the near corner before delivering a ball that sailed over a crowd of players. That ball eventually found the head of McCarty, and one of the shortest players out on the pitch nodded an attempt into the top left corner of the net. While that goal would have been good enough to earn New York the three points (it was also a scary moment, but more on that later), Henry had one final hit in him, an immediate Goal of the Year candidate.
As Henry was preparing to send a corner kick into the box three minutes into stoppage time, he noticed the positioning of goalkeeper Matt Lampson. Henry then motioned for teammate Wilman Conde to stand next to him. With Conde at his side, Henry curled a strike that flew across the face of goal before bouncing off the right post and going across the line for New York's third tally.
Words really don't do the goal justice. Watch it here, and then watch it again and again.
NY Red Bulls 3-1 Columbus Crew: Frightening
All celebrations of the McCarty goal were cut short upon seeing replays of that moment. Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum instinctively dove to his right in an attempt to get a hand to McCarty's header, and he smashed his face off of the right post. He was on the ground for several minutes while being tended to by trainers, and I'm not convinced at this point that he wasn't out of it for at least a few seconds. The good news is that Gruenebaum eventually walked off the field with the help of a trainer.
NY Red Bulls 3-1 Columbus Crew: Conclusion
The MLS standings tell you all you need to know. Sporting KC lead the MLS East and are on 51 points, while New York are on 49 points. Those two sides will meet at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, September 19. Saturday's 3-1 victory put the Red Bulls at the halfway point of a "six out of six points" goal that, if achieved, will land them atop the conference standings heading into next weekend's fixtures. It's all smiles for the Red Bulls and the team's devoted supporters tonight.
Those smiles could either grow or completely disappear four nights from now.