It took seven games, but the Red Bulls were finally able to take three points home after a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union last Wednesday.
New York controlled the balance of play of the majority of its tilt against Philadelphia and was able to convert their dominance into a goal behind a classy strike by Thierry Henry in 57th minute. Despite being held scoreless in the first half, the Red Bulls’ captain was confident that his team would eventually find the break through.
“[This win] was coming,” Henry said to MSG’s Joe Tolleson after the match. “We were creating a lot in some games … although I think the first half wasn’t the best. But we did what we had to do in the second half.”
Lloyd Sam would add an insurance goal 10 minutes later, heading home a pinpoint cross from Eric Alexander. It was a standout performance from Alexander, who was employed in an unfamiliar left-sided midfielder role in coach Mike Petke’s 4-4-2 formation. Petke made a subtle change, using the left-footed Sam on the right and the right-footed Alexander on the left, but one that proved to be decisive, as Alexander terrorized Union right back Raymon Gaddis and was inspirational for both Red Bulls goals.
The reasoning behind using Alexander wide left was to create a numerical advantage down the left and use their superior technical ability against Philadelphia.
“That was a tactical to have right footer on the left [Wednesday] because we wanted to overload the midfield a bit,” Petke said in his postmatch press conference. With Thierry and Péguy [Luyindula] sitting ahead of Dax [McCarty], Thierry likes to make those runs behind defenders and we wanted Eric to come in there. I thought he did alright, I thought he did well. I’m a big fan of Eric’s, his ability with the ball. For me, I wanted to get guys on the field who are very comfortable with the ball.”
Alexander has quickly become one of Petke’s most trusted players on the pitch and established himself as a week-to-week starter since being traded to New York from Portland in 2013. His progression has not gone unnoticed.
“He’s been doing what we saw last year,” Henry said. “That’s what we want from him. He played in an unusual place [Wednesday], but he was good.”
The importance of the victory can’t be understated. Petke admitted that the nerves were creeping in and that picking up the three points will be a huge relief going forward.
“It’s a good feeling, now we’ll go back and look at it again,” he said. “And there are always things to correct, but overall we are very happy we got that under our belt.”
The one negative to come out of the match against the Union was Ibrahim Sekagya’s red card. The Red Bulls’ center back was sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity via a handball in the penalty box and will miss this Wednesday’s playoff rematch against the Houston Dynamo.
“I can’t fault Sekagya on that play, he had like three or four superman blocks in a row and one hit his hand,” Petke said.
With Sekagya out, Petke’s options in center defense are the recently returned Armando and 18-year-old Matt Miazga.