“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
― T.S. Eliot
The seemingly unthinkable, improbable feeling of confidence filled me. In the warm sun of Harrison, NJ just before kick-off, I relayed my confidence and assured those I spoke to that it meant, in no uncertain terms, doom in abundance. Prophetic as the feeling may have turned out to be, the Red Bulls performance did not even slightly rely on my mindset. In what may turn out to be Thierry Henry’s final game in Red Bull Arena, and on fan appreciation day nonetheless, the feeling of the team letting Henry down has been pervasive. Calls for the heads of McCarty, Alexander, Miller, and Petke have also managed to make their way around social media and message boards. It is a false narrative. A lie to spread the blame that even I cannot escape from. Upon analyzing the game however, a completely different culprit emerges. Henry failed Henry.
The 4-3-3 has been lauded as a possible savior to the Red Bulls mediocre season when it was first implemented in a 3-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City. It was extremely effective in its aim. The added presence of Eric Alexander and Dax McCarty in front of the back four shored up the defense. While the formation has been effective at fixing one issue, it created another. The Red Bulls offense in those games suffered. While you have the 2-1 win against SKC, and big score lines against Seattle, the offense has otherwise sputtered when setup like this. Take into account the offensive struggles against LA, DC, Philly, Houston, and now Columbus. In those games, the Red Bulls have a goal differential of -4. Add in the two big wins and it is still a paltry +2. Why?
Well for starters, with Wright Phillips isolated up top, the Red Bulls leading scorer has fewer chances. With only one or two viable options in the box, it becomes easy to isolate BWP and effectively remove him from the game. This past weekend he managed a single shot through 90 minutes. Henry and Sam playing wide are much more responsible for the fate of the team in these matches, with Luyindula providing support where he can. Possession is therefore in the hands of Dax McCarty and Eric Alexander. The latter was targeted as playing poorly this weekend, but as a spectator I did not agree. A look through his stats showed that he had a solid game. He had an 89.4% pass completion rate with only five of his passes misplaced and only one in the defensive half of the field. McCarty upon the same inspection appeared to have a torrid game. From the opening whistle he was caught off guard and stripped of the ball. I don’t think he ever recovered. He seemed to play several poorly placed passes and allowed Columbus to take advantage and spring into the attack. Suprisingly though, at least offensively, McCarty played fairly well. Like Alexander he had 85.2% pass completion rate with 9 misplayed passes. Again, the majority of those were in the attacking half. I think he and Alexander struggled to tackle the midfield generals of Tchani and Trapp which allowed Columbus the success the experienced. They were also dispossessed a total of 18 times, and 26 times if you include Luyindula. You won’t win too many games that way.
Peguy Luyindula was basically invisible as a result of the Defensive midfielders failing their defensive responsibilities. Lyundula had 17 successful passes on the day. 17! When you are charged with leading the offense, 17 is just not an acceptable number. He still enjoyed 80% pass completion rate, but he was barely involved in the game. To put it into perspective, Ruben Bover, and Ambroise Oyongo combined had almost as many passes in the 20 minutes they played (14). That put all of the pressure on Sam and Henry. I bet you’ll never guess who had the worst passing for the Red Bulls on the day. If the title and leading paragraph were not enough to tip you off, the answer is Thierry Henry. He completed 26 passes on the day for 56.1%. Now it could be argued that his passes missed were generally dangerous balls into a lone striker, but close doesn’t count right? Take a look at these passing maps.
The offense must be created from the wings if your playmaker is not getting the job done, and with one or two targets, it simply will not be feasible. In addition, Henry found himself in front of the goal several times throughout the game and came away empty handed. The culprit this time around was taking too many touches in the box.
Even Shep Messing comments that the move was obvious. Everyone knew what he was going to do. Quick release has been something I have championed for a long time. That is true for passing and shooting. There was another example in the first half where Henry received the ball in nearly the six yard box and touched to settle a ball that should have been a one time finish.
One last bit that will not show up on any stat page, but nonetheless effected the outcome of this game. Chippy, albeit well timed, fouls. Watching Bernardo Anor play was like watching a masterclass presentation in the art of the late foul. Anor times the ball release well and manages to stick in a late boot, or knee to give his opponent just the right amount of retribution while the referee follows the ball. Columbus as a whole did this very well throughout the game and kept the Red Bulls from ever developing a rhythm by removing a player from the equation. While on the flip side, the Red Bulls fouled the runner on countless occasions, they generally did so while they still had the ball and the ref’s attention.
The team must pick themselves up and go into Kansas City with a renewed focus if they want to return to Harrison this year. I hope they do indeed. I’m not ready to say goodbye to Henry. Certainly not that way.
Photo Credit – Rob Tringali/New York Red Bulls