You wouldn’t expect the New York Red Bulls to have a commanding 3-2 victory over their opponents, having been scored upon 26 seconds into last Sunday’s game against the former conference leaders, D.C. United. But they did. However, before fans even had time to take a bite of their nachos, D.C. striker Chris Pontius headed the ball past a stunned Ryan Meara. A record crowd of 25,187 “D.C. Haters” had all of sudden lost their voice.
But the confusion in Red Bull arena ended there, as New York seized control of the first half. They would go on to dominate with 63% possession, orchestrating fluid back passes, utilizing central defender Heath Pierce and defensive midfielder Dax McCarty to switch the play out to the wings and drawing D.C. forward. It was only a matter of time before New York found its breakthrough.
The game-tying strike came in the 20th minute on the wings of right back Brandon Barklage. On a Joel Lindpere corner, Barklage literally soared over the defense to stick out a toe. The volley flew in the back of the net and the stadium erupted into pandemonium from there. On his first goal of the season and his MLS Career Barklage said, “It was a great ball in, near post. I was actually supposed to be setting a pick for Dax to get around, but it came into my space and luckily I got a foot on it. I didn’t really see it go in…but I just started celebrating right away.”
To D.C.’s disbelief, the fullback would get yet another two minutes into stoppage time before the half. As the ball bounced up inside the box, Barklage sliced the ball on its way back down, an un-savable shot into the side netting. In the 55th minute, midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli would raise New York’s lead to 2, by thumping his own rebounded shot off the post and in.
D.C. would do their best to crawl their way back into the match. In the 66th minute, they would cut New York’s lead to 1, after Chris Pontius got his second goal of the match off a through ball from Maicon Santos. Despite wave after wave of D.C. attack, the New York defense held firm to give the Red Bulls a well-deserved and much-needed victory.
The best aspect of the Red Bulls’ triumph was that it came off the foot of its support players. Former academy player Connor Lade, played perhaps his best match all season, furiously charging up and down the pitch both sides of play. And as Coach Hans Backe jested, “When Barklage and Solli score, you have to win, probably.” It was a welcome sight to see goals on the score sheet with names attached other than Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry. New York’s one-dimensional attack seemed to have developed into a wide-ranging swiss army knife. If the Red Bulls can maintain this cohesion from all its role players, teams will be hard pressed to knock them out of first place.