Okay, we admit it: that headline is a little unfair. The game had plenty of attacking play, and Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Brian McBride and Nery Castillo didn’t go the full 90.
But you would think that with an unprecedented five designated players and (counting non-DP McBride) several lifetimes’-worth of Premier League and top-flight experience on the field, someone would find the net in last night’s matchup between New York and Chicago at Toyota Park. Alas, it was not to be.
Instead, some fine play from Chicago’s 21-year-old rookie keeper Sean Johnson—who made seven saves—and some inept finishing by the Red Bulls (Macoumba Kandji, we’re looking at you) combined to keep the visitors scoreless.
As for the hosts, they were outshot 22 to five, and didn’t threaten much at all in the second half, but they did get an encouraging performance out of their new DP, former Seattle midfielder Freddie Ljungberg.
In the 43rd minute, the Swedish midfielder had a nice exchange with McBride, but couldn’t bury the Fulham legend’s perfectly placed return pass, which hopped up on Ljunberg at the far post.
The Fire created only one more real chance after that, as it was all New York in the second half. When Henry went to the bench with a slight groin strain just before halftime, Kandji moved up top with Angel—and promptly missed two sitters.
One of them skittered past him untouched on the doorstep of the Chicago goal, prompting ESPN color man Taylor Twellman to say, “That one was easier to make than it was to miss.”
Yeah, this particular report on Kandji may be premature, at best.
Despite the lack of goals, and Henry’s early departure, the game was fairly entertaining and the atmosphere was fantastic, with a Toyota Park record crowd of 21,868 fans turning up, most of them singing and chanting all game long. (The fireworks when Castillo entered the game—just entered, mind you, not scored or anything—were a bit much, though.)
New York put out a new-look lineup with rookie Tony Tchani partnering Marquez in the center of midfield and Kandji and Joel Lindpere on the wings.
When the Red Bulls acquired Lindpere, they presented him as a wide midfielder who could play in the middle if needed there. For the first 17 games of the season, he was needed, and played well, in the middle. The arrival of Marquez allows him to play his preferred left wing, but last night, after half a season of playing in the center, he didn’t look comfortable out wide.
We expect that to change with time. Ditto the understanding between Marquez and his new teammates—the Mexican captain started slowly, but began pinging long passes on target as the game went on. He came out after 60 minutes.
Henry is not yet match-fit, but seems on track to dominate the league, or, failing that, aid and abet Juan Pablo Angel’s increased domination of it. Henry played with his usual silkiness, gliding past defenders and creating chances for himself and his strike partner. If /when he gets to 100%, New York will be a legitimate MLS Cup contender.