BY DAVE MARTINEZ
The New York Red Bulls didn't exactly start their match on Saturday looking like a team capable of demolishing the expansion Montreal Impact, but an outstanding second half and another stellar performance from Thierry Henry showed just how dangerous this Red Bulls team can be.
The Red Bulls broke open a match tied 2-2 at halftime with three second half goals, as Henry delivered the club's first hat-trick in almost six years to lead New York to a 5-2 victory over the Impact.
Henry was the star of the show yet again, delivering three goals and an assist just a week after an MLS Player of the Week performance that saw him notch two goals and an assist.
"I didn’t think I was going to score even one goal today," Henry said in his postgame interview. "That was my mindset at the beginning of the game. I tried to do it because that’s my position, that’s what I try to do, but I just want to win.
"Obviously, when you score goals, people always talk about you a bit more, but as I said to you – it was a great team effort in the second half. Not just one guy, or two or three. We need to play well as a team, and we did it today in the second half, not in the first one."
Coach Hans Backe labeled it "a very strange first half." New York was surprised by the expansion side, who pressured the Red Bulls defense early. "All the games so far, Montreal have sit back," Backe noted. "They don’t press up that much, but they get their shape very very quick. They are aggressive in their own half when they defend, but when we take that much time in our build up, it would be very difficult to create chances."
After a slow start to the encounter, the Impact opened up the scoring in the 19th minute. Sanna Nyassi jumped on a misplayed ball by Markus Holgersson and slotted his attempt past rookie keeper Ryan Meara for the lead. Ten minutes later, Thierry Henry nodded home the equalizer on a Rafa Marquez feed to tie the game up.
Montreal didn’t let the goal faze them. Minutes after the score, Justin Mapp sent a low, hopeful shot towards the near post that beat a surprised Meara for the go ahead notch in the 38th minute. Just when the half looked to be over, an onrushing Dax McCarty was taken down in the box by Montreal defender, Mateo Ferrari. Kenny Cooper lined up the penalty shot and put away the game tying goal to end the half.
"I told the players at halftime that we were quite lucky to have the tie after the first 45 minutes," Backe stated. "They came out very strong in the second half, players responded very well. Huge difference."
New York started the second half the more composed, attacking side. The halftime substitution of Teemu Tainio for Rafa Marquez was also key, as Tainio was able to provide more midfield energy than Marquez, who left the match with a groin injury.
The Red Bulls eventually took the lead for good in the second half when Dax McCarty laid a neat pass at the foot of Henry, who was at the top of the box. The Red Bull captain turned on the ball and beat Ricketts to the near post for the go-ahead goal.
The attack continued minutes later as goal bound Cooper attempt was cleared off the line by Montreal.
Mehdi Ballouchy came on as a late match substitute for Joel Lindpere. With Jan Gunnar Solli pressing from the flank, a feed found Henry in the box, who took a light touch on the ball, finding his Morrocan teammate open on the other end. Ballouchy put his foot on the ball, sending the deflection passed the out-stretched keeper for the Red Bulls fourth goal of the match.
Henry rounded out a dominant performance with a beautiful chip that made it's way past Donovan Ricketts for the teams fifth and final goal of the night.
"Already in the preseason when he arrived to our training camp in Arizona, I think the two, three months in England made him good," Backe said of his captain's hat-trick performance. "He works very hard when he starts picking up goals like this. He’s hungry, he wants to win. I am impressed with this guy every training session. He wants to win everything and he is still very very hungry."