Halftime tweaks in the midfield propel New York to blowout

Thierry Henry and Wilman Conde

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HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls were lucky. They know that and readily admitted it following their 5-2 victory against the Montreal Impact at Red Bull Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Having gone down twice in the first half, the Red Bulls went into halftime level at 2-2 with the expansion Impact after a stoppage-time penalty kick was converted by Kenny Cooper.

Getting that goal may have been a bit of good fortune for New York, but it helped them turn a slow start into a lopsided win, one that was also made possible by the improved effort from the midfield in the second half, not to mention a hat trick from Thierry Henry.

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“A very strange first half, a lot of mistakes, and I told the players at halftime that we were quite lucky to have a tie after the first 45 minutes” Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said during his postgame press conference. “[We] came out very strongly in the second half, players responded very well, controlled the game, dictated it in a good way. Huge difference.”

The difference came in part because of the insertion of Teemu Tainio. The Finnish midfielder came on to replace Rafa Márquez at halftime after the Designated Player’s performance was hampered by the groin injury he suffered in last week’s win against the Colorado Rapids.

“I think it did [affect Márquez], I think Rafa was definitely not 100 percent,” said central midfielder Dax McCarty. “He was moving a little slower than normal. Against Colorado, every time we gave the ball away, he was right back into position defensively, and I think today he tried to gut it out and play through it.”

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The insertion of Tainio, who recently recovered from an ankle injury himself, allowed for McCarty to press higher up the field and that produced almost immediate results.

McCarty picked off a pass from Impact right back Zarek Valentin in the 56th minute, dribbled forward and then dished to Henry for the winning goal.

“Rafa likes to drop deep and come into the backline to receive the ball," McCarty said. "I don’t think we had a good understanding with the rest of the midfielders, when to come in and when to play out wide, because I think he was on an island in the first half for a while.

“Then Teemu came in and I think we discussed at halftime the tactical adjustment for our center backs to have the ball in the back and let them drive out a bit further up the field, and have Teemu sit more centrally and kind of be a guy that can distribute. Let me press higher.”

With their tactical adjustment, the Red Bulls held Sanna Nyassi in check in the second half after he ran roughshod over New York in the opening 45 minutes.

It also allowed the Red Bulls to create more chances, and they went on to score twice more in the second 45 minutes on goals from Henry (who scored the first Red Bulls hat trick since Amado Guevara did so in October 2006) and Mehdi Ballouchy.

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“Kenny and Thierry weren’t getting very much service,” McCarty said. “They were kind of stranded as well as myself, so [in the] second half Teemu came in and obviously he brought a lot of bite to the midfield. I think we started winning more of our battles – one-on-one – so I think that was the difference.

“I was higher up the field and I had more options when I got the ball, everybody had more options when we had the ball.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.