HARRISON, N.J. – Take Gonzalez away.
That was one of the tactical messages on the whiteboard in the New York Red Bulls’ locker room and what ultimately was the difference between a scoreless draw and a 1-0 victory over the LA Galaxy on Sunday.
The Red Bulls knocked off the star-studded Galaxy on a rainy afternoon at Red Bull Arena thanks to a goal from Tim Cahill in the dying seconds of their high-profile tilt. The Australian international got just enough separation from his marker to flick on a free kick from Juninho in the 91st minute, which kept New York atop the Eastern Conference and extended their unbeaten run to six games.
Cahill, however, did more than just score the heroic goal. He directed it.
“I asked Thierry [Henry] to put the block on [center back Omar] Gonzalez,” Cahill told reporters after the match. “He’s a big guy, heading everything away, and I knew where Juni was going to put it, I knew it was going to be dangerous. It was just [about] getting contact.”
As is usually the case, Gonzalez was a monster on aerial balls on Sunday. The Galaxy defender cleared nearly every cross or pass played over the top and his prowess in the air helped frustrate the Red Bulls, who had few real dangerous chances.
That is, until Cahill asked Henry to set the pick that would prevent Gonzalez from getting into position to make a play on Juninho’s cross and give the Australian the space to net his fourth goal of the season.
“I watched the Knicks game, I tried to pick up some stuff from the guys on TV,” joked Henry. “If you look at the replay, I don’t touch him. I just stand by him and when he turns, he runs into me then Tim gets a couple of steps to be ahead of the game.”
The decisive play was the most direct example yet this season of players executing their coach’s game plan to perfection, and it now has the Red Bulls brimming with confidence as they head into their final two regular season games before their short summer break.
“It’s a huge win for us and the organization,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.