So, I attended the Red Bulls game with my father and uncle. This was my live professional match, as well as my fathers. My uncle had been to a game or two before. As a family, we know a thing or two about soccer, which should in our attire. I came with a Robin van Persie Arsenal blue away jersey while by uncle watched half the match sporting Barcelona (Henry played for both, and really, we were very excited to see him play) (The only reason I say this is if anyone saw us, or if there is a picture of us in the stands). Oddly enough, my dad was very interested in the game because he was picking up things to do with my brother's soccer team, which he coaches. The drills before the reserve match were particularly interesting to him (we only stayed for a bit for the reserve match). The was actually pretty fun. The drive wasn't too bad, but I missed the first 20 minutes and the first two goals. I had a decent view, with a spot at 106. I got lucky enough to see Henry score twice (Arsenal DNA) as well as watch the Crew come back to life a bit in the second half. One of the things with watching the game live, even though I don't get the help of replay, I noticed a few things that I would not have seen had I just been watching it on TV at home. Other analysis comes courtesy of the stats and OPTA boards provided by MLS.com.Number One. Thierry Henry is really, really, really good. I know this is a Crew page and all, but WOW. Easily the best and most classy player on the field. But really, what do you expect from the King? Anyway, I don't just mention Henry because he was running rampant with his awesome powers from Arsenal. I also mention him because of something I noticed during the game. For much of the game, Henry just sat on the far left, slightly offsides, especially in the first half. He didn't touch the ball much. But he did get a goal that way. The Red Bulls were dominating possession, but why wasn't the talisman touching the ball? Well, it looks like he was pulling the defense out wide, effectively pulling them out of the game. At that time, NY was leading 2-0 and just keeping the Crew off the ball. By forcing, I think it was Sebastian Miranda, and perhaps another player, to mark him at all times, he kept the defense from pressuring the midfielders. That kept the ball from ever getting close to to Meara in goal. However, keeping that position also generated chances. The offsides trap blocked a few of those moments, however, Henry got the third as the defense fell asleep while the left back, Roy Miller, made a run and dropped a beauty of a pass. Henry, it typical fashion, made a sublime curl around Andy Gruenebaum. 3-0.
That takes me to my second point. The game was 2-0 when I walked in. Yet, NY were the only team on the ball. It wasn't until the second half that Columbus got some possession. That is a problem. By allowing NY to hold the ball, the Crew effectively took themselves out of the game. After the second goal, it should have gotten physical, with the team doing everything in their power to reclaim the ball. Instead, NY danced nice little circles. Literally. as I watched the game, I noticed Henry make these deft little turns away from pressure. He always found clear space after that. Henry is the lifeblood for NY. He should always be marked tight. He should not be allowed to make exquisite pirouettes in the middle of the field when he has the ball. And if he does do a nice little circle, someone should be stepping up to pressure him. Instead, he has an age to decide exactly what he going to do. The man is 34! Surely the Crew can, firstly, keep him from finding such space, and, secondly, keep him from having the time to pick his pass.
In my third point, I wish to talk about width. During the game, I kept thinking, play it out wide. I believe it was Ethan Finlay who got open space in front of him and eventually took a shot. I was calling for him to get the ball well before that. He had the space in front of him. By delaying the pass, NY were better able to get compact in front of goal, effectively blocking any angle. And that was not the only instance. Wide play means the ball moves up and down the field more. That means more time in their end of the field. They can't score from there. Henry isn't a speed demon who can counter off a break. And, even if there is a break, there should still be the two CB and perhaps one of the fullbacks to help them. If the play had been faster and more spread out, the Crew would have gotten more chances. That is evident in the huge shift in the game once Warzycha made a few substitutions. But the team was still too direct and should have started playing like that earlier. In addition, the fullbacks should have made more advances into the other half. All around ,the fullbacks needed work. Too often, there were all 4 players back in defense, or only the two CB's. Shaun Francis and Miranda should not get forward without the ball unless the ball is in their side of the pitch. But when the Crew are attacking, they need to be right behind to pick up the loose balls. I remember, from one attack, my father and I made a note about how, if Miranda had moved forward, he would have been able to pick up a ball and keep the attack from dying out.
Now, l wish to compare the Crew's width with NY's. Unsurprisingly, the possession stats from MLS.com showed that the Crew played very much through the middle. Though the Crew certainly went on the far side of the pitch, the vast majority of their successful passes came right in the middle, away from the sides. I then looked at most of NY's successful passes occurred. I had expected them to also go through the middle, but instead, they were much more concentrated on the wings, especially the left side. At first, I thought that this was mostly because Henry was on the left. That certainly had something to do with it, but he often drifted slightly more centrally. Likewise, Kenny Cooper had a wide distribution of passes across the field, with only a very slight favoring of his right side. So who made all the moves down the wings? Turns out, it was mostly the fullbacks. With Roy Miller and Jan Gunnar Solli getting up, Dane Richards and Mehdi Ballouchy were able to pressure the defenders more, opening up more space.
The final problem I wish to point out: the strike force. I have only seen replays of Cooper's two goals, but they look more like flukes to me. However, Henry showed how much class the team has. Both Cooper and Henry are incredibly accurate. Of their shots on target, about half are goals. In the season so far, NY have turned an astonishing 23% of their shots into goals. The average is about 11%. In contrast, Columbus took 18 shots, only one of which went in. Columbus had 5 more shots than NY, 2 more shots on target (at 8) and yet, lost by a resounding 4-1. Frankly, Columbus needs to convert more of their chances. Clearly, the team is generating raw opportunities, but perhaps these are not of a sufficient quality. But, even then, we need to score.
So, to conclude, Columbus and NY played a fairly even game. The reason why Columbus lost was because of a lack of urgency, despite being down two goals, and an attack that could have moved more fluidly and quicker. Meanwhile, NY were incredibly efficient and denied the Crew the time to make a comeback. I also worry because this will make it hard for the Crew to qualify for the playoffs. We've demonstrated that we can beat on weak Eastern Conference Canadian teams, but against the New York Red Bulls and Colorado Rapids, we haven't looked so hot. I really doubt that, the way the team is playing now, the team will be able to beat Sporting Kansas City. Houston has also been playing well, which only makes the top 3 that much harder to get into. If NY stays this good, or anywhere near this good, they will certainly make the playoffs. The Revs, FIre, and DC seem like they could go either way, so this is going to be a tough year. That attacking DP in the summer might be more necessary than we/ I thought.
I apologize if gushing about Henry like this is too much for anyone. I also apologize if I made any mistakes in suggestions in regards to style. I watch Arsenal FC in London, who very much play through the flanks. If that really just isn't appropriate for the Crew, then please, let me know and discount that part of the analysis.