Just when you thought New York Red Bulls supporters could begin songs of "we've got our Red Bulls back," an unlikely hero along with one of the league's leading scorers rallied RBNY to their fourth straight victory. Don't look now, but the Red Bulls are atop the MLS eastern conference standings.
It's been an odd spring.
New York defeated the Philadelphia Union 3-2 at PPL Park on Sunday afternoon. A match recap and stat sheet can be found here.
Give and take: The duo of Markus Holgersson and the returning Rafa Marquez once again had Red Bulls fans screaming at their TVs and reaching for bottles. This time, though, it wasn't just because of mistakes made by the inconsistent players. Holgersson has been a different player since taking the captain's armband after Thierry Henry was injured back at the end of April, but he had a disastrous hour on Sunday. Holgersson completely lost track of Lionard Pajoy inside the Philadelphia penalty area in the 30th minute, gifting Pajoy a free header following a beautiful cross sent in by first half MVP Freddy Adu. Pajoy then made Holgersson look foolish just 25 seconds into the second half, playing the ball between the legs of the New York defender while working his way into the left portion of the box. Pajoy then easily tapped the ball into the opposite corner of the net to give Philly the 2-1 lead.
Holgersson responded in the final 22 minutes of play, however, with three crucial and game-changing moments. New York earned a corner kick in the 68th minute, one taken by Brandon Barklage. Barklage swung in the best corner I've seen from any Red Bulls player since Joel Lindpere connected with Mehdi Ballouchy in Houston last summer, and Holgersson did well to out-muscle a defender, rise above the crowd and head the ball past the lunging Zac MacMath and into the net for the equalizer. Holgersson was also responsible for two clutch clearances in the final ten minutes of the match.
Now he just has to work on back-peddling without falling down.
Marquez was largely the Marquez of old throughout the opening 70 minutes of his return from a three-game suspension and one-game "injury." He was guilty of lazy defending, taking light jogs around the pitch, and bad giveaways which nearly resulted in goals. Marquez was also responsible for two of the better over the top balls of the game, the second of which resulted in Kenny Cooper burying what was to be the game-deciding goal.
The Adu yellow: The following two points are truths. Freddy Adu was undeniably the best overall player in the first half of Sunday's game. Adu was guilty of a dive in the 43rd minute, and he earned that second yellow card. Adu clearly dragged his leg in an attempt to make contact with Dax McCarty in the New York penalty area, and Adu then went to the ground in search of a penalty.
MLS wants to eliminate diving from league matches. Players flopping around is one reason many American non-fans criticize the sport. Sunday was a harsh lesson for Adu, one that you can bet he will remember the next time he finds himself in a similar situation during a game.
See to believe: I've watched several replays of what occurred right around minute 86, and I still don't understand how Philadelphia didn't find an equalizer in those few seconds of play. Ryan Meara failed to adequately clear a free kick, and the ball bounced to the unmarked Michael Farfan. Farfan, two steps away from an empty goal, tapped the ball toward the opposite post. Carlos Valdes failed to get a touch and complete what should have been an easy tap-in, and play was eventually stopped for offside. Sometimes it's just your day, I suppose.
Overall: Kenny Cooper scores, goalkeeper Ryan Meara has another fantastic game, and the Red Bulls win yet again. No big deal, right? Not hardly. Luck was on the side of the Red Bulls on this day, as a few fortunate bounces on both ends of the pitch went their way. You can't spell "lucky win" without "w-i-n," though, and New York now have more points than do any other eastern conference team.
The roller coaster ride continues.