By DAVE MARTINEZ
When Thierry Henry fell flat on his back, clutching his hamstring against the New England Revolution, the Red Bulls’ immediate future seemed condemned to failure. Wilman Conde, Teemu Tainio, Stephen Keel, Roy Miller and a suspended Rafa Marquez already left New York scrambling for answers on their starting eleven. Losing the team captain only made matters worse.
Fast forward three weeks, and the Red Bulls are riding a five game winning streak for the first time in nine years. With a little bit of ingenuity and a touch of luck, the Red Bulls have managed to collect three shutouts, while outscoring opponents by an 8-3 clip in that span.
The latest in a string of unlikely results saw New York take three points on the road against the Montreal Impact while playing a man down thanks to a pair of ill-advised challenges by Victor Palsson.
“It’s five in a row now, with a quite inexperienced team. You can’t demand anything else,” Red Bulls Coach Hans Backe said. “It’s almost shocking to pick up wins like that. But the way they work, the way they get their shape quick, defending against set plays, defending in open play, the build up, that’s the key to winning in this league.”
Their efforts have earned them an eye popping 8-3-1 record, good for first in the East, and second only to Real Salt Lake league wide.
As has been the case throughout this streak, New York tweaked their lineup to great success against Montreal and role players stepped up to the occasion. Connor Lade shined as a left sided midfielder, playing an aggressive two-way game that certainly surprised the Impact defenders, while Joel Lindpere was once again a spark plug on the inside.
“We needed to get organized quickly and to get our shape quickly. We played Kenny (Cooper) up front by himself and two tight blocks with the midfield and back four. It worked very well,” Backe said. “They had a lot of crosses, but we handled that in a good way and they couldn’t really create the 100% scoring chances.”
Dane Richards, who has been playing a more aggressive role on attack of late, enjoyed a solid performance, capped off with a game winning goal – his first on the season.
“Coach said that whenever I tuck into the left, I should be a second striker with Kenny,” Richards said. “So I was just in the box, looking around, saw the ball pop out to me and I just knocked it in.”
“(Dane Richards) had a great game, made major contributions to the goals," Cooper said. "Getting one and getting them both really. He is such a dangerous player. He doesn’t just run fast – he runs a lot and puts in so much work for the team and deserves to get one for himself tonight so I am glad he got the winning goal."
Another player who enjoyed a steady performance was newcomer Heath Pearce. The career left back played centrally, accompanying Markus Holgersson at the heart of the defense. The duo, along with an inspired Roy Miller and Brandon Barklage, helped contain Montreal despite the man advantage.
“I think we showed resiliency,” Pearce said. “We defended as a unit and we knew we would get a couple of chances and luckily Dane finished a great chance for us and we were able to grind out a result from there.”
“On the road, down 1-1 and down one player, I think it’s unbelievable to get this result,” Richards said. “These guys, we stick together and just get the results. And the results are showing that we are performing well, so we just need to continue this.”
Red Bulls rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara agreed.
“I think we came together as a team,” he said. “We had a ton of injuries a couple of weeks ago. Instead of just folding and giving up, we came together and came closer and I think it shows on the field. We have a good belief in ourselves, we grew together as a team and I hope we could keep it going.”