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Bigsoccerhead: RBNY's First Road Win Shows Improvement

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HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 16: Thierry Henry #14 of New York Red Bulls carries the ball against the D.C
HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 16: Thierry Henry #14 of New York Red Bulls carries the ball against the D.C

After a pitiful performance in Chicago, the Red Bulls finally got their first road win of the season, by beating DC United at RFK Stadium

It wasn’t quite the dominating display they put on at Red Bull Arena when both teams met only a month ago, but Saturday’s performance will do much to improve the team’s morale as the Red Bulls prepare to host well-rested Sporting Kansas City.

The Hits

Thierry Henry: It’s been a slow start to the season (due in part to a knee injury), but the captain seems to be coming into his own. Henry was involved in the game from beginning to end, propelling his team forward with one of his trademark goals, and a number excellent plays; namely an excellent cross to Cahill, who saw his header parried by Bill Hamid. The mercurial Frenchman continues to be the team’s offensive catalyst, and his growing momentum bodes well for a team in search of consistency and fluidity.

Dax McCarty and Juninho: So far, the midfield combo has fallen short of expectations, not so much individually, but to the extend that both have had trouble adjusting to Petke’s tactics. However, against DC, the partnership was more cohesive, which was exemplified by quicker passing – especially in tight spaces – and better defensive positioning. One very good sign was the brief interchange between the two early in the first half. The Brazilian appeared to correct McCarty’s movement, and the American responded very positively.

Jamison Olave: Simply put, the Red Bulls play better when the Colombian is on the field. Like everyone else, Olave did look like a shadow of himself in Chicago, but he was back to his best against DC United. Still, it is Olave’s nose for goal that has been the most impressive. It’s arguable whether Olave intended to hit the ball with his thigh on the second goal, but his positioning during set pieces has been excellent. All of his three goals showed the opportunism of a seasoned striker.

The Misses

The Wings: It’s hard to fault Eric Alexander and Jonny Steele for any of New York’s problems. Both have contributed defensively with their gritty displays, and have offered decent offensive options. Nevertheless, neither player is particularly speedy or dynamic, making the team’s wing play rather predictable. That’s not to say that the players are expendable, only that injecting someone with pace would transform the Red Bulls into a more enterprising side.

Substitutions: I’ve been slightly critical of Petke’s tactical decisions as the season has progressed, but his game plan has produced some favorable results. His substitutions, though, have led to some head scratching, and have done little to influence games. His most puzzling move is pulling Steele - which he does often, regardless of his performances - and pushing Cahill to the left side of midfield, where the Australian seems lost.

The Debate:

Fabian Espindola: The Argentine has two goals to his name, but the Red Bulls play better without him. There’s little doubt that Espindola has a lot of quality, but his similarities to Henry make the partnership ineffective in Petke’s preferred 4-4-2. Injuries have made Petke’s attacking decisions a little easier, but the coach will have a real selection headache when all his forwards are healthy.

Follow Eric Krakauer on Twitter @bigsoccerheadny