Arguably the most anticipated game of the MLS season thus far didn’t have a playoff berth on the line, wasn’t a derby match and featured two teams in the middle of the league’s standings.
But it was the first-ever MLS game to feature five Designated Players on one field, and Sunday’s scoreless draw between New York and Chicago was high on drama and end-to-end action.
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For New York, none of their new big-name signings appeared on the scoresheet, but their names were written all over the result, a confident performance by the Red Bulls in their away kits for a second straight week.
“Look at the statistics,,” midfielder Joel Lindpere told MLSsoccer.com. "We kept the ball, we created the chances. The only thing missing was the goal, and we came close many times.”
Last weekend in Houston, Thierry Henry debuted in league play, setting up Juan Pablo Angel for the team’s two goals in the 2-2 draw. Henry’s game was much quieter on Sunday night in Toyota Park, including just two half-chances in the opening 30 minutes. New York’s third DP, Rafa Márquez, made his league debut and was the best player on the field for either team, dictating the pace and flow of the game.
It didn’t show up in the box score, but the presence of Henry along with Márquez made New York click. The impact of the space the two former Barcelona players created was evident in the freedom that Macoumba Kandji and Lindpere had on the wings and Tony Tchani had centrally to operate.
“He is a player that we needed, someone who I know has played central defense before,” Lindpere said of Márquez. “It’s good, he can sit there in front of the defense and get the ball out there, get the ball out wide.”
Even with Henry limping off the field before halftime with a groin injury, New York carried the momentum from a very solid first half into the second 45 minutes, fueled by a torrid display by substitute Dane Richards down the right flank.
The night though, was about the Red Bulls’ No. 4. The vision of Márquez was seen in the settling passes that brought composure to the Red Bulls’ midfield, a unit that has been outplayed in nearly every game this year but for the first time all season looked the better side.
While he was content to play simply with his new teammates, there was also the sublime from the Mexican National Team captain who, in the 47th minute, sliced a beautiful pass to a streaking Dane Richards inside the box. With one touch, Richards was inside the penalty area and sent in a beautiful ball across the goal mouth that both Ángel and Kandji somehow missed.
It was overall, in a way, a solid performance for a New York team to earn a draw in a hostile environment like Chicago. The fact that the Red Bulls pressed for the win – unlike their away draw against Colorado last month when they clung to a tie – is evidence the Red Bulls can be a force in the league. For a team that just last year earned two points on the road, the tie is a sign that the Red Bulls have finally turned a corner because they felt deserving of more than a draw.
“Yes, the point is good but in this league," Lindpere said. "[But] you need points and we feel like we let three points go through our hands tonight."
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