As good as the Luke Rodgers–Thierry Henry partnership was last year for the Red Bulls, the team’s new — and arguably improved — strike combination has looked so much better this season.
The Kenny Cooper-Henry tandem has taken Major League Soccer by storm and proving to be quite the handful for opposing defenses, powering New York to three straight victories after the team struggled out of the gate to start the season. Henry and Cooper are 1-2 in the league in terms of total goals scored — Henry has seven, while Cooper has six — and have quickly become the driving force in the Red Bulls’ early-season resurgence.
If you took a quick look at Cooper, you would think his role would be more of a target striker, someone to occupy opposing defenders while using his hulking 6-foot-3 frame as a physical advantage. But Cooper is more than just a big body; the former Manchester United trainee enjoys having the ball at his feet and likes to run through the channels, something you would expect from a more fleet of foot forward.
That type of play suits Henry perfectly, with the Red Bulls’ captain now playing a deepertrequartista, or No. 10 role as a second striker that knits play between the attack and midfield in the attacking third of the pitch. We all know the French hitman is a deadly marksman, but he has shown a penchant for being much more of a creative force this season, with Cooper the biggest beneficiary.
The Red Bulls’ first goal of the season is a perfect example of how the two are working so well together.
Notice the perfect pass from Henry on the lobbed chip pass over the defense that falls right on the path of Cooper, who shows a touch of class to lob the keeper for the goal. From a deep position, Henry finds Cooper making a perfect run at the right time to burst by the defense for the opportunity.
As good as both players are, they’re both not going to be scoring at this rate for the rest of the season. But for a Red Bulls team that was so heavily criticized at the start of the 2012 campaign, they’ll keep enjoying the flood of goals for as long as it lasts.
Meara, Meara in the Goal
It’s already been pointed out by countless others, but it has to be said: Ryan Meara looks like Larry Bird’s long-lost twin.
While he may not be a legend yet like his well-known look-a-like, he might be the answer the Red Bulls have been searching for in between the sticks all these years.
The Yonkers native has also been stellar as the Red Bulls’ goalie this season and leads MLS in saves made. Poised and unflappable, the former Fordham Ram has saved the Red Bulls’ defense countless times with his quick decision making and even quicker reflexes. His second-half saves against the Crew Saturday put to rest any chance of a Columbus comeback and kept New York comfortably ahead.
It must be said that Meara’s defense has done him no favors. Center back Marcus Helgarsson has struggled mightily with his adjustment to the American first division and probably cost Meara his first clean sheet Saturday in the win against Columbus with poor marking on Chad Marshall’s 89th-minute header. And while the Red Bulls lead the league in goals scored (14), they also the lead the league in goals allowed (11).
The problems in defense have only accentuated the positive performances from Meara, who fully deserves to have at least one clean sheet, if not two, during the Red Bulls’ winning streak. Only time will tell if Meara can keep up his current form, but it’s safe that he’s been the best part of the defense so far.