HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls downplayed the importance of their rare friendly against Arsenal leading in, and they downplayed the result in its aftermath.
The Red Bulls handed Arsenal a 1-0 defeat in front of a packed house at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, legendary striker Thierry Henry helping set up Bradley Wright-Phillips’ 32nd-minute game-winner and goalkeeper Luis Robles turning in another stand-out showing to blank the Gunners in the 2014 New York Cup.
New York could have easily made much of the shutout win given the quality that Arsenal possesses and the way in which other MLS teams have struggled for results in fellow summer friendlies against English clubs this year. But the Gunners were playing in just the second game of their preseason and not near full strength despite still fielding a talented lineup, which left the Red Bulls from going overboard about the result.
It was perspective ruling the day in every which way.
“It’s difficult. They’re in preseason,” said Henry, who is Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer and whose corner kick keyed the game’s decisive play. “I’ve been on the other side. I know exactly how it is when you come and you come from like maybe 10 days of hard work and you’re not there yet. If you see us play when we’re in Orlando [for preseason], we’re not that fresh.”
- Get more Red Bulls headlines at NewYorkRedBulls.com
What deeply encouraged the Red Bulls was the manner in which the team played. New York conceded some quality scoring chances that the heroic Robles bailed them out from, but there were some real positive moments on both sides of the ball throughout the 90 minutes.
In the attack, the Red Bulls were cleaner with possession than they have been for much of the season and were dangerous on the counter. Additionally, Henry looked as energized as he has all year, young left-sided player Ambroise Oyongo kept Arsenal defenders on their toes with his speed and skill, and central midfielders Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill executed their jobs to a tee.
Defensively, New York were more organized than they have been during a first half of the MLS campaign hat has seen them go a very pedestrian 5-6-9. McCarty also looked like the Dax McCarty of seasons past, sitting in front of the defense and breaking up plays and jumpstarting attacks almost as a pseudo-third center back.
“There was some very good play for us, especially in the first half on our counter,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. “[Arsenal] is one of the best passing teams in the world and we were patient and sat back and looked to counter and exploit and we did some good things. It was good to see some things that we need to improve on that we did well today.
“For me, it’s a positive for the players. Now, it’s only Salt Lake City Wednesday.”
While New York rapidly need to change gears back to MLS play due to that looming trip to face Real Salt Lake, a part of them understandably does feel prideful about trumping one of the Premiership’s marquee clubs.
Yes, it might have just been a friendly early into Arsenal’s preseason. But the Red Bulls stood toe-to-toe with the European heavyweights, played some attractive soccer and ultimately came out with the type of win that has been rare so far this summer for other MLS clubs.
“It felt good and really happy to come out on top because it means a lot to the New York Red Bulls fans, regardless of if it was a friendly,” said Cahill, a former Premier League player. “For me, there are no friendlies and there never will be.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.