Last week, New York Red Bulls manager Hans Backe spoke extensively about his team’s need to start games stronger and use the wings more effectively.
His players must have been listening.
The Red Bulls heeded their coach’s advice on both those aspects on Saturday in a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Crew at Crew Stadium that marked New York’s third straight lopsided win and first victory on the road this season.
Unlike the first four games of the year, the 3-2-0 Red Bulls were able to better utilize their wings, as starters Dane Richards and Mehdi Ballouchy were active in the team’s early success against a Crew defense that was coming off two clean sheets.
Richards helped set up the second of Kenny Cooper’s two early goals in the first 13 minutes of the match, while Ballouchy was involved in a nifty sequence that resulted in the first of two finishes from Thierry Henry.
“It was great quality on the field today,” Cooper told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “Dane did a great job, set up one of the goals. Joel [Lindpere, who came off the bench] played a great ball to Thierry on his second goal. Mehdi did a great job.”
The way New York began the game was the other area of marked improvement. Having started slow in their first two road games of the year (losses to FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake), the Red Bulls opened their match in Columbus much sharper, and it paid off almost immediately.
Three minutes in, Cooper got on the end of a pass from Henry, chested it down, fought off a challenge from Eric Gehrig and shot the ball into the back of the net. Cooper struck again 10 minutes later, heading a teasing ball home after Richards had his shot deflected.
It was the type of start the Red Bulls dreamed of and one that was made better in the 40th minute. Ballouchy hit a nifty pass to left back Roy Miller, who had pushed up on the play, and the Costa Rican international then hit a through ball that allowed Henry to race in on a goal before finishing clinically.
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“First 60 minutes of the game, one of the better we’ve done,” Backe said. “Very effective when we got the chances, even if we had probably two, three more very good chances to score [again].”
Things were not flawless for the Red Bulls. Columbus’ insertion of second-half substitutes Ethan Finlay and Dilly Duka led to a flurry of chances for the home team although they couldn't capitalize on them.
“We invited them too much into our box,” said Henry of the second half. “On any other day, maybe they should and could have scored two or three goals and come back into the game, but they didn’t. [Rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara] made a couple of saves that kept us in the game.”