They were supposed to be the stars of the show in New York but the Red Bulls keep winning without them.
As has been the case over the course of the last month, the Red Bulls once again found a way to win on Saturday night -- 2-1 against the Montreal Impact at Olympic Stadium -- without their biggest names: star striker Thierry Henry, experienced midfielder Rafael Marquez, shutdown center back Wilman Conde and talented holding mid Teemu Tainio.
And NYRB also overcame a red card that left them with 10 men for more than half an hour and a disputed penalty kick in the first half.
Goals from Kenny Cooper and Dane Richards combined with another gritty defensive performance saw the shorthanded Red Bulls (8-3-1) remain in first place of the Eastern Conference and gave them their first five-game winning streak since 2003.
“It’s almost shocking to pick up wins like that,” Red Bulls manager Hans Backe told reporters after the game. “But the way they work, the way they get the shape quick, defending against set plays, defending in open play, not many unforced errors in our build-up; that’s the key to win in this league.”
The performance was not the prettiest, but it was yet another example of this Red Bulls team winning without some of their more high-profile talent. “Fighting for one another” was a common refrain used by the New York players following the match.
Highlights: MTL 1, NY 2
First, they responded to Montreal's opening PK goal with a spot kick of their own. Then, down a man, the Red Bulls hustled to protect the 1-1 score line. Cooper, the team’s lone forward, was running around relentlessly to help a defense that benefited from the addition of Heath Pearce, who joined the club in a trade just two days ago.
They were rewarded with a game-winning goal in the 67th minute when Richards smashed home a rebound for his first of the season.
“A lot of guys are contributing,” said Cooper, who converted the equalizing penalty kick in the first half for his 10th goal of the season. “There’s obviously a lot of quality in the team, but I think you’re also seeing a lot of fight. … Guys are committed and battling for the cause.”
Now Backe faces a dilemma: Henry, Conde and Marquez should all be back for Wednesday’s intriguing match against Juan Agudelo and Chivas USA, but their returns mean some of the players who have churned out these five league wins will need to move to the bench to make room.
Backe's looking forward to dealing with the problem.
“It’s phenomenal for the future,” Backe said. “Now every guy on the roster has got MLS minutes. Some good players are coming back for the Wednesday game, but we need to add something to our attacking game. This can’t go on forever, just defending and looking for breaks and counters.
“But we definitely know now that these guys are ready for MLS.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.