CARSON, Calif. -- Thierry Henry juggled the ball for 30 yards with a Galaxy defender on his hip. Mike Magee backheeled a pass to himself and work his way out of trouble and into a break for LA. David Beckham lofted perfect set-pieces, Tim Ream cleared up everything that moved in front of New York’s net, both ‘keepers produced spectacular saves, and Landon Donovan nodded home an equalizer that sent the 27,000 fans in attendance into delirium.
In short, Saturday night’s clash of two giants produced everything that was hoped for on the field of The Home Depot Center. LA and New York played to a 1-1 draw, but the soccer was of such high quality, and the spectacle so, well, spectacular, that the final scoreline hardly mattered.
Watch: Full match highlights
“It was 1-1 but it probably could have been 3-3,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said after the match. “It was a fair result. It’s a very intense game, a very good game -- probably the best you can see in MLS at the moment.”
For Bruce Arena, Backe’s counterpart in LA, the game was about one thing: The ability to pass the ball and not give up possession cheaply. LA connected on nearly 80 percent of their passes; the Red Bulls, 83 percent.
Both teams pressed and there were a few turnovers, but both teams had the capability to knock it around and work out of that pressure and into open spaces more often than not.
“Both teams can pass the ball and it’s hard to pressure each other,” Arena explained. “The passing was good enough – there’s enough players that are calm on the ball to get through that pressure. The game opened up because both teams were attacking.”
And it opened up quickly. Henry started the scoring just four minutes in after running onto a Dane Richards’ pass and rounding Galaxy ‘keeper Donovan Ricketts. It’s the type of goal that’s built by teams able to pick their spots, and indicative of the style the Frenchman wants to see his club embrace.
“I think that tonight, it was great football,” Henry said. “We’re just trying to pass the ball and it’s refreshing to see that LA was trying to do the same. It’s a little sad that it was an even game, but what we’re trying to do is to play football, and that’s what LA does as well.
“I’ve said many times that we played a great game against Philadelphia, and we lost, but we’re just trying to pass the ball. We’re trying to prepare and play the right way, and it was a very good game today.”
Whether or not those comments were meant as digs to some of New York’s Eastern Conference rivals, only he can know. But Henry’s coach, at least, made no bones about the level of play on the pitch.
“I said last year. The first game [between New York and LA], I didn’t get the feeling that it was a rivalry type of game,” Backe said. “But this year, with the players, the power strikers on both teams, it is a special game.
“This is such a good level, definitely. I can compare it with many leagues in Europe where they would be very happy to have seen a game like this, with the number of chances and the technical level. The work rate was great, and really, the whole package was very good.”