HARRISON, N.J. — When Markus Holgersson nailed a second-half goal that put the the New York Red Bulls in the lead against the Houston Dynamo on Friday night, there were a few of the 15,000-plus fans in attendance at Red Bull Arena who celebrated more than the others: Holgersson’s family.
Playing in front of several family members that he rarely gets to spend time with, Holgersson put forth a man-of-the-match-level performance: a clean sheet and the game-winning goal in a 2-0 win that moved the Red Bulls back into first place in the Eastern Conference.
HIGHLIGHTS: NY 2, HOU 0
“It’s always fun to play in front of them, especially since they are not here so often,” said Holgersson after the game. “It’s always fun to do an okay game when they are here.”
Holgersson did more than okay. He fought off a slow start and settled in to put together arguably his best performance of the season. He snuffed out several Dynamo attacks, playing more physically than he has in recent games and doing well to stand up against Macoumba Kandji on all but one occasion.
It was a bit of redemption for Holgersson after struggling mightily against Kandji and the Dynamo in New York’s loss at BBVA Compass Stadium the previous Friday. And his contributions were noted by head coach Hans Backe.
“Overall, he’s been solid defending-wise and that’s what he is, he is a defender,” said Backe. “But I think also he has improved in his attacking game, even if we sometimes during this game had too many final passes from the back four. But that depends a little bit that Houston drops. They don’t press that high, they drop and get back in a 4-1-4-1 formation, which is difficult to break down.
“But the back four, there has to be that kind of passion to defend. They’re on the pitch to defend and it’s good that we can have a cleansheet tonight.”
While his defensive efforts might be what Backe signaled out the most, what fans are more likely to remember is Holgersson’s 61st-minute goal which broke the deadlock after the Red Bulls wasted chance after chance. The scenario unfolded when Tim Cahill headed a cross back to a wide-open Holgersson in front of goal, and the Swedish center back tapped it home.
The tally was Holgersson’s second of the season, but it is likely to be just as memorable as his first. Not just because this one was a winner, but because it was a winner that came with his family in attendance.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.