Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com
By MIKE NASTRI
Harrison, NJ– Needing a win to bolster an already razor-thin hold on the final playoff spot in MLS, the New York Red Bulls stepped up with their best team performance in months.
Led by the strike force of Luke Rodgers and Thierry Henry, and a promising performance by struggling Mexican star Rafa Marquez, the Red Bulls beat the Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-0, at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday night.
Rodgers and Henry tallied goals to help the Red Bulls knock off a tired Galaxy squad that was coming off a Saturday match, and was missing stars Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, as well as starters Mike Magee, Sean Franklin and Chris Birchall.
"We can beat anyone," said Rodgers. "You've seen that tonight. We played the best team in the league and we battered them in my eyes. If we can do that in the last two games and then carry on and build momentum, who knows?"
The victory moved the Red Bulls into a tie for fourth place in the East, and a tie for ninth place overall with Houston. With 43 total points, New York now stands just a point behind Columbus and Philadelphia for second place in the East and just two points behind Sporting Kansas City for first place.
Marquez turned the recent string of boos for poor performances into cheers by delivering his best game in months. After starting slowly, Marquez eventually settled into a strong central midfield role, and capped a solid performance by sending a perfectly-crafted pass between two defenders to Thierry Henry, who raced into the penalty area before chipping the ball over a sliding Donovan Ricketts in the 60th minute to seal the victory.
Marquez, who got in hot water two weeks ago after criticizing teammates and earning a suspension for his comments, decided to speak with his play Tuesday, rather than his words. In a verbal statement on Marquez's behalf, Red Bulls Vice President of Communications Jurgen Mainka said, "Rafa Marquez respectfully declines to make any comments. He said he prefers to continue playing instead of addressing the media at this point."
After a slow start to the match, Marquez came alive in the second half. The Mexican Designated Player received his first cheers at Red Bull Arena in some time when he was substituted for Dax McCarty in the 82nd minute.
"Being a big star like Rafa Marquez and apologizing to the guys is the most important thing," said defender Jan Gunnar Solli. "And the way he did it, I think was fabulous."
Solli continued: "The way he can play on his top level is amazing. The way he passes the ball and reads the play, that's his biggest strength. Let's just focus on him playing in the midfield position now. I think he did some great things. I really respect him and I hope he will continue playing well."
Marquez wasn't the only Red Bull with a strong game. Rodgers opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Jan Gunnar Solli powered a corner on frame forcing a save from Ricketts. But, the Jamaican keeper couldn't hold on and Rodgers was there for the rebound and the one-goal lead.
The Galaxy's Supporter's Shield hopes are still alive as they remain a game away from clinching the regular season title. They are seven points up on Seattle with two games left to play against Chivas USA and Houston.
"It wasn't our best night," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. "I think we looked like a tired team. Tonight is a culmination of a lot of games over a short period of time, and it showed."
While the Galaxy's playoff fate is secure, New York still has a tough road to hang on for a playoff spot. They still have crucial matches against two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. They travel to Kansas City in eleven days time before finishing the season at home against Philadelphia on October 20th. However, with the win on Tuesday, New York's playoff hopes are in their own hands. Two wins would mean a playoff berth for the second straight year.