LEHI, Utah — Real Salt Lake's defense has been impossibly stingy this season, surrendering only 18 goals so far. On Saturday at Red Bull Arena, however, they will face a New York offense that features two of the most dangerous strikers the league has ever seen: Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel.
“We’ve taken a lot of pride and done a lot of talking about how good we are defensively," head coach Jason Kreis said. "We’re going to be tested severely on Saturday.”
Since Henry's arrival, New York have gone 6-2-2 and nearly doubled their scoring total, striking for 17 goals. The strike tandem of Henry and Ángel presents a world-class double threat unique to MLS, and along with the deep-lying passing of Rafa Márquez, represent one of the most dynamic attacks in MLS at the moment.
But while there is respect aplenty for the Red Bulls DPs, RSL must also stop the other eight players who line up against them.
“First and foremost is that when you add players of their stature, you get a bump from the rest of the players around them,” Kreis said. “I think everybody knows that Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez have come in. It’s not only what they’ve been able to produce, but the players around them.”
But Henry and Márquez will cause RSL plenty of problems if they get the opportunity, something that Kreis knows all too well.
“Just the sheer quality in Rafa Márquez – with his leadership ability and the experience that he’s just been through – to have a guy like that in the midfield to calm things down for you and be steady on the ball, is immeasurable,” he said.
“Thierry Henry just with his intelligence in the offensive third is the largest reason why they are creating so many chances. They may not all be coming to him, but I think he’s doing an excellent job of providing the players around him with opportunities.”
And though Ángel may have received less press this summer than the other two DPs on New York’s roster, he has scored more goals than any other player in the league since his arrival in 2007.
“Ángel is Ángel, and I think he’s just fantastic, and has been every year he’s been here," Kreis said. "It’s remarkable how many goals he’s scored, especially when you consider the fact that a lot of the goals that were scored have been on a bad team.”
The reigning champs are well aware that they will face an immensely talented squad at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, but midfielder Andy Williams is clear about the team’s objectives.
“We want to make a statement, especially [in New York]. Big city. Big lights.”