‘Running With The Red Bulls’
By Sean Hartnett
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Commentators and fans across Europe gave the New York Red Bulls little chance of getting anything out of Emirates Cup play this weekend. Arsenal F.C., the hosts of the tournament had won three of the previous four editions of the cup and were once again considered heavy favorites.
Joining the Red Bulls and Arsenal were respected Europa League participants Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine giants Boca Juniors. New York was like the new kid on the block, surrounded by clubs with rich histories and winning traditions. It would have been unlikely for the Red Bulls to be invited if they hadn’t acquired former Arsenal captain and legend Thierry Henry.
ESPN pundit Robbie Savage was particularly damning of the Red Bulls’ worthiness and overall reputation. The controversial former Welsh international midfielder drew the ire of Red Bull supporters and legions of MLS fans when he described New York as a “League One side at best.” Having seen the MLS All-Stars trounced 4-0 by Manchester United this past Wednesday, opinion of Major League Soccer in Europe was in need of some repair.
There was a mission that the Red Bulls needed to fulfill on their trip to London for the state of American soccer but more importantly for their own sake. The Red Bulls needed a mini-vacation like this to repair their own evaporating form. Outside of their comeback 2-2 draw with FC Dallas before their Emirates Cup break, New York suffered four consecutive dismal results. It was time for the club to get things back on track.
In their Emirates Cup opener, the Red Bulls contained the attacks of PSG and dominated possession. They held onto a 27th minute advantage gained by Joel Lindpere to secure a 1-0 victory. There was little time to celebrate the result or gain rest as a day later, the match-up fans were salivating for beckoned. Arsenal supporters were desperate to watch their returning hero Henry in action and Red Bull fans eagerly anticipated seeing their team stacked up against one of Europe’s glamour clubs.
As any Premier League follower could tell you, Arsenal play an attractive attacking style that few clubs can match and this was the sort of measuring stick the Red Bulls desired. In typical fashion, ‘The Gunners’ dominated possession at a rate of 66%. A Teemu Taino handball led to a free kick opportunity in the 42nd minute and allowed Robin Van Persie to come away with a headed-in goal.
Undeterred, the Red Bulls fought on and continued to find chances. Henry and Roy Miller combined for an attack that resulted in an Arsenal own goal, leveling the match in the 84th minute. As the final whistle blew, jeers rained down upon the Arsenal players as New York was awarded the Emirates Cup for their overall best record in the tournament.
Red Bulls’ head coach Hans Backe was buoyed by the experience and felt this was the kick-start his team needed. He told MLSsoccer.com, “The players must take this momentum boost back with them. I said to them yesterday anything could happen in this Emirates Cup. We could lose 6-0 both games and embarrass ourselves; but to pick up a 1-0 win yesterday and tie a game with Arsenal, even after only having 20 percent of possession, it shows that we can defend well and we will take that with us.”
It would be disheartening to see the Red Bulls spoil the progress gained during the Emirates Cup by following it up with more sporadic MLS play. Only three points will suffice when they travel to the Rio Tinto Stadium to face Real Salt Lake on Saturday. A league victory is long overdue as their last MLS win came on July 6th against Toronto FC.
Red Bull fans, what do you make of the club’s Emirates Cup showing? Can their positive results abroad translate into consistent league play? Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.