Apr 23, 2014, 11:56 PM EDT
This is exactly what teams should get when they pluck attackers from England’s lower leagues: the ability to read a play; get in the right position; and reliably finish. On Wednesday night, those abilities paid off Bradley Wright-Phillips, who produced an unlikely hat trick for the suddenly resurgent Red Bulls, helping New York overwhelm Houston for its second win of the season.
Routing visiting Houston 4-0, New York embarked on its first winning streak of the season, building on last Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Philadelphia. Thanks to a goal and two assists from Thierry Henry, New York gave supporters a reason to believe last year’s Supporters’ Shield-winning season is more than a one-year fluke. After one of the more one-sided performances of the young MLS season, New York is suddenly third in the Eastern Conference.
It’s a swift turn around after a 0-2-4 start left New York near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but after last week’s break through, the Red Bulls had reason to believe the team’s initial, six-match stretch was as much randomness as an indicative of actual skill. Wednesday’s decisive win over the visiting Dynamo gives the team reason to believe wins over Philadelphia and Houston are better indicators than losses at Vancouver and D.C. United.
In that way, this performance may prove more telling for the Dynamo than the Red Bulls. Two weeks ago, Houston was handed a demoralizing loss in New England, though the team apparently recovered with a 0-0 draw in Philadelphia, Tonight, however, it appeared as if Mike Petke figured them out. Playing wide-to-in, New York used hard, driven crosses to beat David Horst and Jermaine Taylor, avoiding the aerial game where Houston’s duo would have an advantage. It’s an approach that more-or-less worked for the first three goals, with the final tally coming from the spot.
It was a performance that transcended any context two uncertain teams brought into the game. Sure New York was coming off of a week’s rest while Houston’s turnaround was quick, but that doesn’t explain such a lopsided, decisive result. New York fully deserved its four-goal margin.
It goes without saying that’s a good omen for the Red Bulls, going forward. New York may not be on the same level as Kansas City, clearly the best in the East, but who is? It’s a question we won’t even ask if the Red Bulls weren’t holding the Supporters’ Shield.
Still, if the Red Bulls had to match up with the likes or Toronto or Columbus tomorrow, would you really write them off? Toronto may have that Michael Bradley-ness not its side, but beyond that, New York is suddenly playing as well as any non-Kansas City team in the Eastern Conference.
On one hand, that’s life in the Eastern Conference, where two games take you from bottom dweller to contender. On the other, it’s reason for caution. Just because two wins can vault you up the Eastern Conference doesn’t mean you’re contending. New York is recovering and has started putting worries of a collapse being it, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly read to defend its Supporters Shield.
All it means is New York, compared to the winless team it was two weeks ago, is in much better shape. The flaws we saw in the seasons first five weeks may still be there, but right now, the Red Bulls are doing a much better job of overcoming them.ws
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