By MIKE NASTRI
Luke Rodgers scored twice, breaking the New York Red Bulls' 135-minute scoreless streak to power New York past the San Jose Earthquakes, 3-0, in the pouring rain at Red Bull Arena.
Thierry Henry finally got on the scoresheet to break his scoring drought. Henry had a few chances off the foot of Rodgers, but he couldn't convert until the 87th minute. Rodgers sent a curling cross from the right corner of the box to find a streaking Henry. The Designated Player buried the header in the right corner of the goal for Red Bulls' final goal.
"I think [the fans] wanted me to score, and I wanted to score," said Henry, the Red Bulls' captain. "Overall, we won't remember that today. I think the most important thing to remember is the way we played and the way we put pressure. If we do carry on defending like that on the front, we will be a difficult team to beat."
In a surprising move, New York head coach Hans Backe started Rodgers over the usual starter aside Henry, Juan Agudelo. Rodgers stifled any criticism scoring just two minutes into the game off a Red Bulls corner.
"We have three good strikers," said Backe. "I think we need to rotate a little bit with those three guys. Juan has been training and playing since the beginning of Janurary. We just a feel that he needs to calm down a little bit."
Rodgers added his second of the game just 13 minutes later, after Thierry Henry stripped San Jose captain Ramiro Corrales and slotted the ball to a streaking Rodgers. The former Notts Country striker flicked the ball past Earthquakes keeper Jon Busch for the 2-0 lead.
"I knew exactly where he [Henry] was going to put it," Rodgers said. "If you don't make as a striker then you're not a striker. It was brilliant. Two goals in 15 minutes. It was the perfect start for me."
San Jose never held a grasp on the game. They had a hard time extinguishing an explosive Red Bulls attack. The one or two chances that Chris Wondolowski and the Earthquakes had were handled with relative ease by Bouna Coundoul and the rest of the New York defense.
"I think the best team of the night won," San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. "I thought New York played well — score an early goal and followed up with another one. So for us to start out, we got no real chance to get back into the game, so I think the result was fair."
The win for New York avenged a playoff loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in last year's Eastern Conference semifinals. But revenge wasn't all this match was about. The Red Bulls struggled to score this season and it cost them points in matches in which they dominated possession.
In this match, New York came out with new energy and a strong team effort to rebound from last week's 1-0 loss on the road to Philadelphia.
"It is a great team effort," said Henry. "We defended together and we attacked together, and that's what we need to do to win games."
Added Rodgers: "It's just a matter of time before it clicked. All you have to do is watch a training session to see how sharp we are. I think tonight it clicked, and this will kick-start our season."