‘Running With The Red Bulls’
By Sean Hartnett
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The New York Red Bulls needed a rousing result to seize momentum ahead of the MLS All-Star Game and trip across the pond to London for the Emirates Cup.  New York was coming off an embarrassing match where they were thrashed by the Colorado Rapids 4-1 on Wednesday, adding fuel to an already growing fire of discontent among their own supporters.

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Expectations were heightened after the Red Bulls’ 5-0 mauling of Toronto FC back on July 6th.   Strong form at the beginning of the month gave way to a string of poor results and questions were being raised about the direction of the club, acquisitions made by Erik Solér and managing policies of Hans Backe.  The usually unwaveringly boisterous supporters groups began to scratch their heads and pondered the fate of their beloved Red Bulls.

It all came to a head before Saturday’s match against FC Dallas.  Outraged by a perceived lack of seriousness taken in the Red Bulls’ preparations before their 4-0 U.S. Open Cup exit to Chicago Fire, the supporters clubs banded together to let their feelings be known to Red Bulls’ management.   United, they released an official statement outlining their grievances over the team not sending a competent squad to Chicago in their USOC defeat and similar past instances in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The entire statement can be read here: http://www.empiresupportersclub.com/2011/07/22/esc-notice-of-protest/

As the first half got underway against FC Dallas, the ‘South Ward’ end of Red Bull Arena was eerily silent in protest.  None of the gleeful flag waving, constant bouncing and bellowing usually seen in their supporter sections was displayed in the opening 45 minutes of play.  The fans in Sections 133, 101 and 102 sat quietly as Juan Agudelo’s flick deceived Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman, giving the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.

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New York’s play slumped in the second half and Dallas took advantage as Marvin Chavez tied the match in the 51st minute.  The renewed second half support from the South Ward spurred Red Bulls’ winger Dane Richards to produce his best display of the season.  He looked threatening for the majority of the 90 minutes and was denied of a long distance drive by the post.  Still, Dallas continued to be the superior side and gained the lead in the 78th minute through a vicious shot by Chavez.

Something truly special was needed for New York to scrape a draw after the Red Bulls were reduced to ten men after Richards received a second yellow card.  In trademark style that Thierry Henry could only call his own, he produced a moment of magic in the 85th minute.  Leaving Dallas defenders off-balance with his splendid control and weaving, Henry unleashed an unexpected shot through traffic that left Hartman helpless.

As he’s done throughout the season, Henry yet again pulled his team away from defeat in the late stages the match.  It was exactly what the Red Bulls needed to gain a much-needed point in the standings and something that the club can build upon in the second half of the MLS schedule.

After the final whistle blew, Henry strolled straight over to the supporters in the South Ward and showed his appreciation for willing the team.  Without their influence, the Red Bulls would only be half of the club they are presently.  Sure, ownership had the funds to sign star attractions like Henry, Rafael Marquez and newly-acquired keeper Frank Rost but without the fanatical support and atmosphere generated by the supporters, playing for the Red Bulls wouldn’t have the same kind of pull.

Hopefully Red Bulls’ management perked up and listened to the discontent of their fans and the stance taken by supporters on Saturday won’t need repeating in the future.  Henry’s goal should be viewed as a rallying moment for everyone from ownership down to the players and fans to come together united in support of the organization’s chase for the MLS Cup.  Following the MLS All-Star Game and distraction of Emirates Cup tour, the Red Bulls will have a clean slate to work with on the pitch to build upon late dramatic momentum of Saturday’s match.

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Red Bull fans, was Henry’s late goal the kick start the team needed for the second half of the MLS season?  Was the protest aimed at the owners successful in your eyes?  Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.