They may have finished the tournament in third place, but the New York Red Bulls have to consider the Barclays New York Challenge a success.
Despite conceding a halftime lead to Tottenham on Thursday night and falling 2-1, the Bulls bounced back with an impressive 2-1 win over Manchester City on Sunday.
Head coach Hans Backe told MLSSoccer.com last week that the priority of the tournament for him was to get his side ready for the second half of the season. In the wake of the actual games, one must say “Mission accomplished.”
Four things to take away from the Barclays New York Challenge:
- This Henry guy is pretty good. From his two halves of soccer, divided between Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, it is clear that Thierry Henry is a completely different class from most players in the league. Not only was the goal in Thursday’s debut impressive, but also his positioning, speed and skill separate him. He made everyone else around him dangerous and freed up room for others, specifically, Mac Kandji up top, Dane Richards on the right wing and Joel Lindpere centrally. Even with what Backe termed on Sunday as “heavy legs,” Henry still held the ball well and found space for others.
- This Kandji guy ain’t bad either. Mac Kandji formed a strong strike partnership with Henry over the weekend. It is clear that Kandji’s job is to hold the high position and give Henry room to operate underneath. Henry’s presence gives Kandji space to operate and take players on 1 v. 1. Whether he does that as a midfielder, as Backe has hinted at in the past, or up top as a forward remains to be seen. Regardless, it is clear that Kandji could be more dangerous playing alongside his childhood hero.
- The backline is solid. The back four held steady throughout the tournament against some powerful, world-class attacks, including the likes of Robbie Keane, Craig Bellamy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jo. The two goals on Thursday against Tottenham resulted from out-and-out gaffes—that is, things the defense can correct. It’s clear that the central pairing of Carlos Mendes and Tim Ream has become Backe’s favorite duo and Chris Albright continues to show that he is rock-steady at right back. Roy Miller, who has bounced around the midfield and become an option off the bench, looked very good at left back against Man City. Other than his poorly executed header back to Greg Sutton in goal, Jeremy Hall was good against Tottenham and looked very active against Man City at right back.
- The team is one player away. It’s clear that Backe has done a wonderful job with New York so far, turning a team with the worst record last season into challengers in the East. Most impressive: Half the players who saw the field on Sunday afternoon are holdovers from 2009. But, the side still needs a true attacking player in the midfield who can create and distribute. While it is expected that the Red Bulls will sign a third designated player, perhaps even as early as this week, some of the names bandied about don’t necessarily fill the creative role, per se. The Red Bulls need someone who can make that killer pass in the final third if they want to go from challengers in the East to contenders for the Cup.
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012