Arguably the greatest trio in MLS history played their first game together at Toyota Park in Chicago. Despite numerous chances the final score was 0-0.
New York's combination of Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel, and Rafael Marquez overshadowed the massive Fire trade for Freddie Ljungberg and the acquisition of Nery Castillo during the pre-game hype. Yet, the story of the game was rookie Fire goalie Sean Johnson, who made a number of critical saves to keep a clean sheet.
The majority of the talk surrounded Thierry Henry, who has looked very good in his two Red Bull appearances thus far. He has been involved in three goals and connected well with teammates, especially star striker Juan Pablo Angel.
Rafael Marquez signed last week, and this was his first game in a Red Bull uniform. He is expected to be a force in the midfield and at the back. Winning the ball and directing play are his strengths.
Meanwhile, Freddie Ljungeberg moved to Chicago in late July from Seattle for a couple of draft picks. He has much experience playing in the MLS and is great at moving the ball down the field.
The other Fire signing, Nery Castillo, also debuted tonight. He is a mercurial Mexican attacker who has played very little in the last few years.
Here is a play-by-play:
6th Minute: Ljungeberg nutmegs Roy Miller on the wing and wins a free kick. Baggio Husidic volleys the ensuing free kick well but it’s blocked.
11th Minute: After Wilman Conde concedes a cheap throw-in, Henry juggles the ball over two defenders and sends a 50-50 lob into the box. The Fire cleanup..
19th Minute: Chris Albright sends a curling ball into the box from the wing. Angel heads it towards the back post, but he gets no power on it.
21st Minute: Angel sends a great cutting past to Henry. Henry stalls than sprints past the defense but his shot is tame.
24th Minute: Marco Pappa receives a pass from McBride across the top of the penalty area. His shot is wide.
27th Minute: Henry gets warned for a late push but reacts with a raspberry at the camera.
28th Minute: Henry spins and stutters from 25 yards out and takes a shot that misses wide right.
29th Minute: Angel taps it to an on running Henry who gets the ball caught between his feet near the penalty spot.
31st Minute: Yellow card on Husidic for a late sliding tackle on Marquez.
32nd Minute: Tim Ream is booked for tactical foul on a speeding Freddie Ljungeberg.
38th Minute: Ream sends a chip up to Miller but Sean Johnson is off his line to quickly and wins the ball.
41st Minute: Miller sends in a looping far post cross to Mac Kandji. His volley requires a good save, but he is called for handling.
43rd Minute: Logan Pause chips it to Brian McBride into space. The Red Bulls are on their heals but Ljungeberg scuffs a beautiful ball from McBride.
45th Minute: Thierry Henry is subbed out for Dane Richards. Although he didn’t want to come out, he may have a head injury.
47th Minute: Marquez sends a diagonal straight through the defense to Dane Richards. Richards scathes it across the face of goal but Kandji manages to miss.
49th Minute: Kandji heads a Lindpere cross wide of the upper corner.
56th Minute: Albright chips a swerving cross onto the head of Kandji who misses again. Nery Castillo enters for Brian McBride.
61st Minute: Marquez is subbed out for Seth Stammler.
64th Minute: Richards receives a great chip from Richards whose first touch goes through nutmegs the defender. He falls in the penalty area but nothing is given.
67th Minute: Logan Pause switches the field with a curving ball to Marco Pappa. He can’t get a shot off in the end.
68th Minute: Angel gets ball in space on the wing. He strikes a knuckle ball but Johnson makes the save.
73rd Minute: Mac Kandji breaks away but kicks the ball too far in front of him while avoiding a challenge.
77th Minute: Richards speeds by two players but his cross is a little bit too far behind Angel.
80th Minute: Carlos Mendes gets a yellow card for holding Ljungeberg in the midfield.
80th Minute: Castillo makes a few cuts on the end line and sends it back to Pappa who curls it wide.
83rd Minute: A mistake by Conde leads to a shot from Angel that beats Johnson and the post.
87th Minute: Richards gets the ball in space and passes it to Ibrahim who can’t get the shot off quick enough.
90th Minute: Ream hits a top drawer volley but Johnson pushes it over.
91st Minute: Albright sends another great cross in which Angel heads into the bottom corner. Johnson makes another highlight save.
92nd Minute: Johnson breaks up a Dane Richard breakaway by charging out of the box.
94th Minute: Johnson makes a diving stop on a Lindpere cross.
The MVP was Sean Johnson, no question. He made a wide variety of quality saves. He knew exactly when to come off his line and his reactions were impressive to the say the least.
His last save in the 94th minute was spectacular. Angel made no mistake with the header but Johnson was too quick. It's impossible to say how consistent he is after only two games, but his potential is sky high. And he's only 21.
Now back to the players who get paid the big bucks.
It was unfortunate to see Henry leave early with an injury because he looked good in the first 45 minutes. Although he never actually tested the keeper he kept the defense on its toes.
It was also great to see him running around and pressing the ball. He helped the Red Bulls win back possession a few times.
For me, Rafael Marquez was the best designated player on the field. He basically controlled the Red Bulls when they had the ball in their half. It looked like a training ground scrimmage for him as he yelled and gestured and pointed.
He came back very deep to receive the ball numerous times, which often gave New York five at the back. He didn't complete as many as passes as he could've because he chose to be very aggressive with his distribution. Numerous times he sent the ball 40 yards straight up the field to feet. His 47th minute diagonal ball sliced through the Fire defense.
His free kicks and defensive play were admirable as well, but his passing was the best.
Freddie Ljungeberg looked good too. He made numerous runs with the ball right across the Red Bull defense. He even had a chance to score in the 43rd minute but he could not handle a bad bounce. He did a little bit of everything for the Fire by also tracking back and taking free kicks. He added the pace and work rate the Fire were lacking up front.
Nery Castillo was less impressive. Besides setting up a shot for Marco Pappa he failed to make a real impact on the game. Luckily, the Fire do not need to rely on him up top.
But what I really impressed me the most was the quality of the Red Bulls wide play. Roy Miller, Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards, and Chris Albright sent in a barrage of crosses into the middle, and it was incredible that no one scored. No one could match Richard's pace and Albright was very accurate. Mac Kandji missed multiple chances, most in the air, and couldn't do anything with the great service.
Juan Pablo Angel did better than Kandji in the air but still coldn't beat Sean Johnson. Angel took shots from all over, but nothing was going in for him today.
Tim Ream was another player who stood out. Although he was shaky at times in the back, going forward he looked like a handful. I understand that Red Bulls are still looking for another attacker, they are missing a player who can hold and knock down the ball like a Brian McBride, but I think what they really need is another central defender.
Overall though, it's great to see this much quality in MLS.