UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls have proven over their recent six-game unbeaten streak that they can grind out ugly victories. Now, they are hoping to extend that run of good form while showing improvement in their style of play.
The Red Bulls returned to the practice field on Friday, two days ahead of their Eastern Conference affair with the Columbus Crew (Sunday, 5 pm ET; UniMas), and they weren’t keen on boasting about the recent stretch that has seen them score 11 goals and concede just four. Instead, New York harped on needing to play a better brand of soccer to get through games a bit easier.
“We’re on a good run, don’t get me wrong, and we’re all happy with it but if you want to carry on and be a force in this league you have to play better,” Thierry Henry told reporters on Friday. “We know that we can win games not playing our best football at the moment. … But my mind is more on the bigger picture, how we can improve and stay there.”
In recent weeks, the Red Bulls have demonstrated good counter-attacking abilities but little ability to maintain possession and help kill off games. The 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact on May 8 was a prime example of that, and last weekend’s 1-0 triumph over the LA Galaxy came despite New York conceding more clear-cut chances.
Needless to say, there is room for improvement.
“Just possessing the ball. We don’t possess the ball,” said Henry. “It’s not me saying it. Watch our games. We’ve got to do just better. Having said that, we did defend well, don’t get me wrong and like I said, not long ago, we would have been losing all those games.
“It is a plus to know that we can squeeze by, but that won’t last long. We need to somehow, especially at home, sometimes control the game a bit better.”
Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke agreed with his captain, saying the club needs to be sharper when transitioning from defense to offense, and added that he hopes to address that in the near future.
“We defend so well but we’re also very eager to get forward and go to goal,” Petke said. “I said to them, ‘If we are a counterattacking team then we’ve got to start gearing practices more towards that.’ But I don’t think we are. I think we just have players who have energy and enjoy getting forward and it might not work out sometimes.
“Our ball possession and breaking down teams [need improvement] and that’s something that’s on me, after the break coming up, that we start hitting a little bit more.”
Until then, winning ugly will have to do.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.